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Tech Fun in the Summertime
The purpose of the Summer Makers Lab is pretty simple: expose teachers to design and fabrication by having them do just that. After some early activities about design thinking and iterative processes, teachers were left to ponder the problems they sought to solve, and come up with solutions.
“The best way to understand it is to do it. The way we teach children is how we teach each other. This is a safe and supportive space to try new things, create something and discover what works,” instructor Peter McKenna said.
The Scarsdale Teachers Institute, founded in 1967, is a vehicle for faculty professional development. Courses are created and taught by Scarsdale faculty members, to help their colleagues grow their skillset and access resources. Courses are reviewed and approved by the STI Executive Board as well as the Board of Education roughly three times a year.
Led by a team of instructors who teach in all grade levels K-12, the Summer Makers Lab course supported faculty who were new to the maker movement as well as advanced makers who wanted to expand their knowledge. In the end, teachers applied their skills to a lesson, activity or project for their classroom using their new skills.
The course was hosted in the Design Lab at Scarsdale High School over the waning days of August. High School Chemistry Faculty member Andrew Visconti designed a series of riddle-covered cubes for students to use as ice breakers on the first day of school.
“Students decipher all of the information they find on the cube. The idea is for them to employ something similar to the scientific method to try to determine what belongs on the blank side,” Visconti said. “I don’t give them any sort of guidance, they form collaborative relationships with their partners. It will be a good camaraderie-building activity, and a lot more fun than just going over a syllabus the first day.”
Under the guidance of Brian McDonald, Scarsdale High School STEAM Department; Christine Boyer, Heathcote Elementary fifth grade; and Peter McKenna, Fox Meadow Elementary School Technology Department; participants dove into 3D modeling and printing, laser cutting, wood working, circuit building, cardboard prototyping and more. They worked on a variety of projects over the course of three days, each with an opportunity to envision how the tool will be used in their own classrooms.
Scarsdale High School Chemistry faculty Kevin Viviano created a custom lid for the science department’s fish tank during the course. The lid had holes of varying sizes, to accommodate a series of planters.
“This is not something I could have ordered off Amazon, the only solution was something custom. I could not have done something like this outside of the STI. With all these tools, the possibilities are endless,” Viviano said. “Now students can learn about self-sustaining ecosystems while they learn marine biology.”
McDonald said it is always gratifying to work with colleagues, especially when they are able to come to the Design Lab. By exposing them to design concepts and the Design Lab tools, faculty grow in their confidence with the tools and with the work itself. McDonald said that confidence of skill is the primary building block of the maker movement. From there, they can explore how to build practically anything.
“Helping teachers have an opportunity to focus on new technology and solve for problems that arise in the classroom, or create new teaching tools, is so rewarding,” McDonald said. “It helps all of us become better educators.”