After school Re-Using Technology Club – Working with E-Waste

Categories:  Ellen Foster, Science Club, [Lessons]
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Toward the end of last semester and for the past weeks of this new semester, a group of 7th graders have committed time to meet after school to learn more about issues of E-Waste and physically appropriating technology for new uses.

The end goal of this after school group is to encourage kids to think about technology obsolescence and how they might creatively remix and reuse technologies that are considered unusable or unwanted. They have had fun making old printer motors run, learning about how sound waves look, and exploring issues of chemicals leeching from E-Waste into ground-water supplies. They have also watched a short documentary on “DJ Focus,” a young teenager growing up in Sierra Leone who has taught himself to build a radio and other technology out of throw-away materials – his hope being that radio communication will foster discussion and connections within his community. The overall intention is to think about technology’s implications, uses, and shaping in society as a whole and within locally situated communities.

The kids were excited to take apart old electronics (mainly old printers and radios) and check out their insides — the circuitry, the gears and moveable parts. We focused on getting out usable components, such as the motors, while talking about the differences between stepper motors and DC brushless motors — how they each function, and might contribute to different projects. One day I brought in some old computer towers with the DVD player motors still intact. Two kids worked diligently to expose the motor power connections of the player and hook it up to a 9 V battery. Here is the result!

They also had fun hooking up the DC brushless motors to batteries and seeing them run on their own, separate from the equipment they were helping to cool.


It was a raucous good time for kids to tear things up, but sometimes it was hard for them to focus on the task of extracting the motors and getting them to run. This has since made me realize that I need to give them more concrete projects for creation and instruction beyond exploration and play – although I think enabling them to work in this mode is important.

Teaching them the basics of component parts (what is a resistor, capacitor, motor, circuit, etc.) by looking at E-Waste was a helpful foundation for them to think about what parts are salvageable from E-Waste, and which are potentially dangerous immediately or to the environment. These foundational skills will hopefully keep them building in the future, or at least give them pause when thinking about throwing out old electronics and the possibilities for what those objects could become.

Since first exploring circuitry and electronics through E-Waste, we have moved on to other projects but that is material for another post.

Skateboarder Activity

Categories:  Culturally Situated Design Tools, Libby Rodriguez, [Lessons]
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Skate Boarder modelMath: Geometry, Algebra, slope, graphs

Science: Friction, Energy, Wind resistance, acceleration

Materials Needed: glue gun, cardboard, toy cars, finger skateboards, scissors, marbles, computers

Prep: Run Skateboarder CSDT – may need to install java on computers and download SB applets to computer hard drives. Optionally, you can just open in a browser:

Open the Skateboarder application for each student, spend a few days letting them play around and experiment with the software, asking questions wherever they find the need to. During that, spend days on lessons talking about circle degrees for using the arcs for ramps, moving segments programmatically using translation or rotation, and elasticity and friction.


  • Create your own skate park (to be referenced when you create your cardboard model).
  • Try to get your boarder to stop on a ramp.
  • Change the background of the application to a picture of your face and create a skate park so the skater skates around your face!
  • Once you are content with your software skate park, create models out of cardboard mimicking the software models and compare what the software skater does compared to how a marble/finger skateboard/toy car behaves on the cardboard model.

Teaching materials are also available

GK-12 Kickoff Lesson

Categories:  Culturally Situated Design Tools, Libby Rodriguez, [Lessons]
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To begin my GK-12 experience, I decided to use the skateboarding CSDT tool from at the GK-12 Kickoff with our potential teacher pairs as our audience. In my lesson, I spoke of the evolution of skateboarding. Interestingly enough, skateboarding started out as a way to “sidewalk surf” when there were no waves that day. What started off as a last resort soon became a favored pastime. From there, my lesson went on to discuss the problems of gender diversity and ethnic diversity that this sport soon brought to the surface. Being a Hispanic woman in computer science, I feel that lack of diversity every day. While science is becoming more diverse each year, it’s still not where it should be. I mainly wanted to stress the significance of this because it could really become a learning experience for a middle schooler coming from a home where going to college isn’t really “the norm.” I want to emphasize the importance of breaking out of that and making your own way.

The last part of evolution I covered was the rise of skateboarding tricks. This became a great segway to talking about the science and math in skateboarding. First, I began with applications in science. Using and, I learned about the “ollie,” “frontside 180,” and “half pipe pumping.” With merely these three tricks, I was able to cover the concepts of gravity, friction, center of mass, speed, and the law of conservation of angular momentum. This could become a great hands on activity for kids to try (without skateboards) and pinpoint when different forces take over on their bodies at the different parts of each trick.

Next, I discussed the applications of skateboarding in math. The math of skateboarding basically covered the ramps, obstacles, and friction of the board on a surface. For instance, I brought up the arcs, line segments, polynomials, etc. that a skateboarder skates on as well as his slope at a particular instant. To display my meaning, I showed the skateboarder CSDT tool from, and the audience got to play with the tool themselves on their own laptops.

After the skateboarder tool was explained, I talked about a fun way to get kids interested in the tool. You could upload a picture of the student, or one of his/her friends, to the background of the tool and change the ramps and line segments so the skateboarder appears to skate around the face of the background image. The tool also has the ability to change the elasticity and friction of any surface so this could be expanded on as well.

My last idea for this topic would be kind of a follow up to this lesson. After the kids played around with the skateboarder tool and got the skater to do what they wanted, they could make those ramps and arcs in a real life display using a cardboard box and different cardboard cut outs. Then, using a marble, toy car, or finger skateboard they could test out how their “skate park” works compared to the one they created in the CSDT. This would also be great for explaining friction so they could actually feel/see it in action, and slope for making the ramps the same steepness as the CSDT.

I think this lesson has a lot of possibilities, and I look forward to trying it out with actual students. Perhaps once I do that, I can get a feel for enhancing the other CSDT GUIs to better meet their needs.

Rapping to Expand Improper Fractions

Categories:  Culturally Situated Design Tools, Michael Lachney, [Lessons]

A major benefit of stepping into the formal school classroom as an outside contractor is the freedom and creativity to think about student engagement from informal perspectives. As someone who has worked primarily in media arts classes and after-school media literacy workshops, I am always looking for new ways to engage my students through their own expertise. Sometimes these expertise appear in the form of popular culture, while other times through ties around ethnic heritage. As I move from media arts to STEM education, I plan to continue building connections between formal education and students’ own expertise. One way I have begun to think about student expertise as pedagogically helpful for STEM classrooms, is through connections between auditory, rhythmic, and musical learning and mathematics.

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