by Bronte Howell
I hope you enjoyed reading Part One of this blog. This is Part Two to wrap up more of our activities from this past year. We hope our selection of activities have also offered exciting experiences for students to spark their curiosity on subjects like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Teacher gaming is raising awareness of the social challenges schools are already facing globally. The world is full of information and students have difficulties in exploring the field of possibilities for careers and making the right choices in the modern ‘education tube’ from Pre-K to university.
This year I had the opportunity to visit the PAX Australia Game Developers Conference. This is the biggest gaming convention in Australia. It was quiet amazing to see all types of games, both educational and for entertainment, from board games, roll play (cross-play) to electronic computer games. The convention catered for all ages, experiences and interests but the big draw card for me was the STEM Game Challenge for schools.
This Challenge is coordinated by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and supported by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia), government, universities, corporate partners and game developers. The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge aim is to increase interest and participation in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines by inviting school students to create an original educational video game.
The challenge addresses the growing disengagement of students from STEM learning, at a time when the STEM disciplines are among the most critical for success in the 21st-century workforce. It was great to see some other parents there and the audience was full of teachers and students from many schools. You can read more in the media release from the final presentation here:
We are already thinking about taking part in this exciting program next year.
The feedback from some of the students was that they really enjoyed learning something about quantum mechanics in a fun way. However as well as the fun there were some serious spacecrafts being built and many of them being able to successfully pilot complete orbits around the moon and other planets and re-land.
Kerbal Space Program enabled the students to get a basic understanding of some physics terminology and concepts, the mechanical concepts of engineering a spacecraft, Game Interfaces, Ladder Logic Programing, Long Range Navigation, Aerodynamics, Explosions and Space! Our very own IT Support Adam Simon held these classes each week which included a complete week by week outline of the course which you can view and download from our website if you are interested here. There are great plans for Kerbal along with partner TeacherGaming LLC to expand this program further into schools with a full education mod for teachers.
TeacherGaming LLC also developed MinecraftEdu, completely evolved for the classroom. Over 3,000 teachers in 40+ countries have used MinecraftEdu to teach subjects from STEM to Language to History to Art. If you are not familiar with the edu suite of games they are created by teachers for teachers classroom use and officially supported by Mojang, the company behind Minecraft. MinecraftEdu contains a set of powerful yet simple tools to fine-tune the Minecraft experience for learning. There are virtually 1000s of videos online of classroom learning examples and tutorials. MinecraftEdu allows teachers complete control to write and set assignments within the program. You can read one teachers experience here: He has integrated technology and math skill building challenges into the worlds he’s authored. His environments are places to teach, reinforce, or to demonstrate application of concepts. He also lets his students focus on creative aspects of the game, without the material creation restrictions, often leading to self-driven research and learning. This is STEAM, incorporating ART into the STEM disciplines.
Our students developed a Rollercoaster project that was linked to Dr Who, moving through different Tardis’ and statues of each of the Doctors. exploring physics, math and the laws of motion to calculate speed or components of speed. Some students built electronic circuits using redstone to power the carts. Redstone has properties a bit like electricity and can control things like switches, levers, powerlines and minecart tracks. Developing interest in subject material is as important as teaching punctual facts. After getting together to set down the ground rules they set off on a rollercoaster journey to the land of the Drs.
The possibilities of Minecraft are near endless. A recent release by Tate Gallery is ‘Tate Worlds’ exciting Minecraft ‘maps’ that present virtual environments inspired by artworks from Tate’s collection. They are making it possible for students of any age to explore a range of paintings and sculptures. The first of these focusing on the theme of Cities, inspired by Andre Derain’s 1906 painting of London, The Pool of London, and Christopher Nevinson’s 1920 painting of New York, Soul of the Soulless City. I have downloaded and played this and it is quiet amazing. Players are able to explore how the paintings were made through a unique combination of art, history and adventure. You can meet and communicate with the virtual artist Andre Derain and discover where he got his pigments and venture deep into the artwork. You can read more about it here.
“On the first day of “Intro Into Arduino”, a good-sized group of 11 students were introduced into the basic concepts of programming Microcontroller’s, in particularly the Arduino! Arduino is an open source system of both hardware and software, allowing anyone with access to a Mac, PC or Linux machine to write, debug and upload code to a small chip. It is essentially like a small single task computer, capable of doing many amazing things. The Arduino’s programming language is based on C, students of any age can learn the core skills that can be used with dozens of modern programming languages which are based on C as well. In this activity students learnt to use the IDE (Integrated Development Environment), write code that enabled pins on the Microcontroller to be an “Output”, upload a “Sketch” to the Arduino board via USB and witness LED’s blink in a variety of ways.
This activity was delivered by Karl von Moller. To assist the students, Karl designed and built a simple “shield” (dubbed the ‘Preshil Shield’) which fixes to the top of the Arduino, allowing the kids to program LED’s, Switches, make noises and sense the world around them using a variety of sensors, all without having to know anything about connecting electronics at this point! So there is no risk to safety, damage to devices, just programming fun! Hopefully many of the kids will become interested in learning more about how to connect other circuits and electronic devices in the future and participate in the ‘Intro to Electronics’ activity, however for now, this course was designed to provide a basic introduction to programming skills. During the term students learnt about Variables, For Loops, IF/Else statements and the like, to enable students to do even more amazing things.
The Preshil Shield
In the Intermediate Arduino the students continued an exploration into the world of micro controllers and moved on to the next level of fun, connecting motors of various sorts including, servo’s and high powered DC motors using a variety of controller IC’s. They also played with solenoids, relays, power transistors, plus a heap more sensors to begin the process to prepare them for their ultimate project. Intermediate Arduino broadened there horizon on what is possible with the Arduino platform, so whether they are interested in Robotics, Home Automation, Data Logging a science experiment, an art based interactive display or making music, the intermediate Arduino activity provided a fun and exciting pathway to realising some of those possible projects.
The real beauty of Arduino starts to present itself when the students put both their programming skills together with electronic hardware. Anything becomes possible and is only limited by one’s imagination. Over the weeks, the students were led through some more key fundamental concepts in interfacing microcontrollers to the real world, making some decisions based upon their own derived logic and then outputting that back to the user via displays and actuators such as motors. The class began by quickly reviewing what they already knew about some important cautionary reminders on SAFETY.
The first project, was to setup an actual traffic light system using an Arduino and some transistors to drive LED’s inside a Traffic Light. First they talked about the design process. In a typical traffic light system, one set of lights stop traffic while the other set allows traffic to flow. They first made a logic table to help them design a digital control system. They then went ahead and modelled a miniature model using electronics and controlled by the programmed Arduino. Some of the students went away and modelled the casement in their 3D printing activity and returned to complete the fully functional miniature traffic light.
We were also very lucky to have Angus Gratton step in for Karl whilst he was overseas for work. Angus is a Software developer and hardware engineer. Makerspace aficionado and fond of free software & open source. Angus spends some time at freetronics and OTS (Open Tech School) offering tech workshops that are hands-on and fun. If you are looking for some great gift ideas, you can visit freetronics.com (or go to jaycar) I totally recommend the ‘Experimenters Kit’ for all ages:
In this activity delivered by preshil parent Rosalind Patterson, students explored the ‘selfie’ as trophy: masks, busts and selfies – The art of portraiture; self-portraits: animal heads; portraits in history. They also discussed many references & influences including examples from Scandinavia and contemporary Australia. Students then went on to create various forms including vessels using the pottery wheel, learning wheel-work techniques and manipulating clay forms. They also drew portraits in preparation for clay mask/bust over newspaper or other moulds whilst also analysing and critically observing their own artwork and their peers. There was plenty of opportunity to research, reflect and evaluate artworks and the influences. Below is a selection of works.
I hope the Activities Program this year has been fun and offered unique learning experiences. I look forward to sharing the 2015 program with you in the new year.