Friday, 9 March 2018

I Learned it all on YouTube Part 2

Anybody with an interest in woodworking probably already subscribes to Izzy Swan's YouTube channel Some of the most interesting and innovative projects I've every seen are on his channel and there are videos on there that I have watched a dozen times. He can be unconventional, but I have also learned a lot of traditional techniques from watching him. And he's very entertaining.

He has built everything from a drill-powered T-Rex sculpture and a foot-powered lathe. This video of him making a wooden brace drill is the first of his that I saw. When I came across it today, I thought I would post. He hasn't put anything new up for a few months, but there is enough on his channel already to keep you going for a long time.

Flip Book Artist Makes Trippy Optical Illusion (Storyful, Crazy)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

How to make a non-responsive yo-yo responsive

I used to be pretty good with a yo-yo when I was a kid, so I was pretty excited when my 8-year old wanted to learn. Well, it turns out that yo-yo's ain't what they used to be... My wife ordered yo-yo's online for everyone in the family and when they arrived, I couldn't wait to show off my stuff.

The yo-yo would sleep... and sleep... and sleep. I opened it up and discovered they all had bearings in them. I scanned through a dozen or so YouTube videos for advice on how to make them more responsive. Some people suggested jamming the string in between the bearing and one of the faces of the yo-yo. That way, it won't sleep at all. Another suggested looping the string multiple times over the bearing. That should make it a bit more responsive. It didn't work well for ours.

I just wanted a traditional yo-yo, but I didn't want to use any adhesives, in case I want to try my hand at using it as a non-responsive yo-yo later on. The simplest solution?

Plumber's tape, also known as thread seal tape  It works great. Everyone probably has some at home. It isn't sticky. And it only took a couple of seconds.

Here's my new yo-yo.

Unscrew the sides.

Grab a length of tape.

Wrap it around the bolt hole on the face of the yo-yo.

Tuck it in nicely so it won't get in the way of the string (I used a pair of tweezers).

Screw it back together. Done!

The tape is so fine that it is easily tucked out of the way and won't increase the size of the gap when you screw the sides back together.

Happy yo-yo-ing.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Living Sculptures with Grade 3

As grade 3 students were finishing up a "Sharing the Planet" unit about plants and about to start a new "How We Express Ourselves" unit about the arts, we introduced a project to design and create Living Sculptures around the school. Living sculptures are just that--incorporating plant life into sculptures, blending art and science into works of art that are constantly changing. 

Here's the presentation that we worked with to frame the project:

The students were really engaged and took ownership right from the beginning. They researched different kinds of living sculptures on the Internet, they formed groups and exchanged ideas. They presented to each other and settled on a few ideas that they thought were manageable. They planned out what materials they would need, what jobs would have to be done and of course helped dig everything up and put it all together. These sculptures should be around for years to come. How empowering that must be to an 8 year-old to be able to have that sort of impact on their school. We are lucky to be at a school where we are permitted to do this sort of thing. Indeed, they turned out so well that it looks like the area where we put them will become a living sculpture garden where we will be able to continue building new works in the future.

This group worked on a sort of teepee that will soon be covered in vines and hopefully offer some shade from the hot Singapore sun!

This group was interested in upcycling. They made a giant maple leaf (we are the Canadian School after all...) out of coat hangers that will become a trellis for another climbing vine.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Welcome to the STEAMlab (repost)

(Below is an article that I posted on what was going to be the blog for our school Makerspace/STEAMlab. When the school ended up moving to a closed platform on a password-protected LMS, the blog was abandoned. I just came across it and thought people might find it interesting. Two years in, I am as committed as ever to the idea of giving students ownership not only of their own projects, but of the space itself. I've had a lot of visitors recently from educators that are looking to start their own Makerspaces. Hopefully this may provide an interesting perspective.)

When people ask me about the Design classes that I teach, or about the new STEAM program that we are starting at CIS this year, I like to share a favourite story about the Tuskegee Institute. If you don’t know about the Tuskegee institute, it was a historically black university--one of the first-- founded in the late 1800’s by Booker T. Washington in the state of Alabama and boasted George Washington Carver among its prestigious instructors. The university was established on land that had once been a plantation. The first course that they taught was masonry. Why masonry? There were no buildings on the land when they started. The students, quite literally, built the school.

This story somehow left an impression on me professionally and has influenced a lot of what I do in the classroom. On my very first day of teaching, for example, for the very first lesson I ever taught, I remember dragging all of the furniture out of the room and into the hallway. My grade one students’ first task would be to figure out how they wanted their classroom to look. I wanted it to be their classroom. After every couple of months, we would have a discussion about how it was working, then we would drag everything out into the hallway and start again.

Here at TK, we’ve worked  hard to ramp up our Design program these past two years. We’ve incorporated a lot of new equipment, from drill presses and scroll saws to DSLR cameras, 3D printers and LEGO robots. Our students have played a very central role in how this has come together and with their own hands and their own sweat, have helped to transform the learning space into something more conducive to the sorts of projects they wanted to do. They helped to build workbenches so that we could do some woodworking with real tools. They helped build different work tables with storage so that we had a place to put our projects. We have been slowly replacing the furniture that the school purchased with our own creations. At each step, we discuss what we need. We use 3D modelling software to design the space and the furniture to simulate how it will look in the room when it’s finished. We learn the basics of technical drawing so that we can draw up the plans. We learn to use a range of powered and hand tools safely in order to complete our projects.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.04.34 am.png
We used a 3D modeling program called SketchUp to help us to design the learning space.

New Doc 12_1.jpg
We developed our drawing skills to make a plan.

More than a dozen students have helped design and create this work table over the last couple of months. Many of them volunteered to come at lunch and after school to help work on it.

Our new furniture has helped us to transform what was just a normal classroom before into a fantastic Makerspace where students can work with a broad range of tools and equipment.

What we are doing is not new. At least not to some of us. Perhaps we grew up with a basement full of tools. My dad and his brothers made soap-box derby cars together in the garage. My grandfather and I made crystal radios from cereal boxes. We learned other skills from tinkering around at home as well. Maybe we learned to cook together with our parents in the kitchen. Or we learned to sew when Baby Bear got a tear.

Many of our students have not grown up in households with opportunities to tinker or even do many things for themselves. And it’s amazing to see how excited they get when they do get to work with their hands. I sometimes have a lineup of students that want to come in at lunchtime to help tear apart wooden pallets with a pry-bar (who wouldn’t?) When learning so often happens in the abstract, it can be very empowering for students to see their efforts lead to an actual product--especially when it’s a product that has genuine value to real people. Imagine how they feel when they can walk around school and see something that they made that was a real contribution to school environment, something that makes someone’s life easier. Even as I am writing this, I have a group of students building a bench for our ECE students so that that have someplace to sit when they are taking off their shoes. That bench should still be here for years to come.

The Design and STEAM Programmes provide students with opportunities to engage in hands on learning activities where they have ownership to solve authentic problems and to build the school that meets their their needs… I hope you are as excited as we are!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Future World at Singapore ArtScience Museum

Kudos to the Singapore ArtScience Museum for their fantastic new permanent exhibit, Future World. It is a wonderful collection of interactive digital installations, some of which are evocative and beautiful and others whimsical and fantastical. It was created by Japanese artist collective teamLab who work with artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects to transform spaces to create their otherworldly experiences. Often when sharing the vision of STEAM with parents, students and other educators. I find myself giving examples from the world of robotics or industrial design to try to help them see where the various disciplines intersect. I'm thrilled to have something with more of an art focus to be able to share--something that could never happen without serious collaboration between experts of these different fields. And the exhibit is expected to stay for at least the next 3 years.

100 Years Sea Animation Diorama speaks to environmental concerns as slow haunting music plays and we watch as islands are slowly swallowed by rising sea levels--from the comfort of a pile of beanbag chairs in the middle of the room.

Sketch Town and Graffiti Nature are really the highlights of the exhibition. Visitors sit at tables with colouring sheets and crayons and colour pictures (in Sketch Town, it's spaceships, buildings and trucks, in Graffiti Nature, it's sea creatures), scan them and then watch as their illustrations magically appear in 3D, driving, swimming or flying across the wall along with everyone else's pictures. They are interactive as well. My son coloured in a spaceship and as it flew slowly across the wall, he could wave his hand over it to make it go faster. 

This digital, interactive hopscotch was fun to watch. My youngest could have stayed on there all day.

It's hard to get a sense of this one from the photo but it was pretty cool, standing in a room surrounded by thousands of little LED's lighting up in various patterns that look like they go on forever. I made an LED cube with an Arduino last year that was only 4x4x4 and I thought it was mesmerising to look at. This was basically the same thing except it's the size of a room and you're standing in the middle of it. Hypnotic.

I used to run a workshop to introduced students to generative art (digital artworks derived from mathematical algorithms) using a tool called Context Free Art. It's still available on my wiki here in cased anyone is interested. I later expanded on this with a 6-week unit about Generative Art to introduce my MYP Design students to computer programming. We used a language called Processing that was created specifically for artists and designers as a way of teaching programming concepts in the context of the visual arts. If you want to know more, check out It's a website with over 150 short videos that take you slowly, step by step, from basic to more advanced programming concepts. The site's creator is an artist himself and the examples he gives are always inspiring.

Now that we have this exhibit here in Singapore and it's going to be here for a while, I hope to revive some of these projects and see if I can use this as a vehicle to inspire some more kids to start programming (and hopefully get some teachers onboard too!)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

I Learned it all on YouTube - Part 1

Featured Favorite: Bruce Yeany

My first year running the STEAM program at TK has been one of the most productive of my life in terms of learning new things and immediately putting them into practice. Whether it was the use a particular machine, piece of software or a construction technique, YouTube has continued to be my first stop when I needed to learn how to do something. I want to write a few posts to acknowledge some of the people that have helped me on my learning journey and provided me with so much knowledge and inspiration 

This week, I'll start with Bruce Yeany's channel, Homemade Science. He's a science teacher in the public school system in Pennsylvania who designs and creates most of his own equipment and regularly posts videos of the projects that he does with his high school students. Everything is presented clearly and is easy to follow and from what I have read in the comments, he's quick to reply to questions and willing to share digital files of his creations if you contact him directly. The projects he does are always interesting and are often things I haven't seen anyplace else. Here's an example where he makes a homemade speaker from a DC motor:

Here's another one where he cuts a piece of wood with a Dremel cutting wheel made from a sheet of paper:

More than ten years ago, I picked up this little tumbling toy at a tiny, old toy shop in Liulichang in Beijing. It was mesmerising to watch it move and I always thought it would be a cool project to try to replicate it with kids. 

I forgot about it entirely until I came across one of Bruce Yeany's videos where he makes a few different variations on this toy. I tried it with a class of grade one students the other day and it went over really well.

His channel is truly a goldmine. There are more than 100 videos that he has created himself. I'm thinking about starting a Bruce Yeany fan club. It's that good. Check him out.