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Draper Journal

Channing Hall students excited to explore, create in ThinkLab

Jul 25, 2019 10:59AM ● By Julie Slama

Channing Hall students use newly acquired skills in the school’s new ThinkLab. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This year’s sixth-graders are eager to return to Channing Hall. 

They may be able to command a black panther growl, make a unicorn dance or have a dragon wink.

Through the school’s ThinkLab, which opened this past year, students have been trying out Sphero robots to Raspberry Pis — not the kind that’s eaten, but rather a series of small computer boards used to teach basic computer science.

This fall’s sixth-graders may follow in the footsteps of this past year’s sixth-graders when they created pets and programmed microbits to make them move on command.

In the spring, Sheila Solaimanian, Hope Lowery and Ava Brinkerhoff were three students programming their animals, which were made of supplies such as toilet paper rolls, plastic cups, butcher paper, feathers and duct tape.

“We learned how to make it work on, then I had to figure out where it should go on my animal to make it do what I wanted,” Sheila said, as the puppy was able to swirl its face, bark and give a high-five. “It’s been really fun to learn how to program.”

Hope created a cat, which she programmed to wag its tail. 

“It’s a little challenging, but I’m glad I’ve learned,” she said. “This way, I can have a cat my dad isn’t allergic to.”

For Ava, learning in the ThinkLab is up her alley as she may pursue a career in chemistry or engineering.

“I really like math and science, and in here, we’re able to build things using what we learn and be creative at the same time,” she said.

Being creative with tools and supplies just may have turned from dream to reality for Ava and students like her at Channing Hall. 

The ThinkLab has one wall created just of Legos, a green screen on another, and on other walls, six desktop computers, a couple 3D printers and reference books. There are 15 iPads and 30 Chromebooks students can use throughout the room or bring next to their project, and of course, carts of supplies. 

Scattered throughout the room are completed projects as well as those in progress. 

“The sixth-graders are programming with microbits and microntrollers,” ThinkLab teacher John Meyers said. “We want our students to be familiar, not afraid, of programming and technology and this is a safe place where they can create and even fail, and learn from that failure.”

They also learned about circuit boards, created apps and used a green screen when they made public service announcements.

Students created 3D Tinkercad models, then printed them on one of the school’s 3D printers.

“We had eighth-graders who designed a prosthetic prototype for their science fair project. They were able to test it, tweak it and reprint it three or four times, until they got it right. It’s been great for the students to identify a community problem and have the access to taking the steps to solve it. We’re using this makerspace to think creatively to solve problems and give our students the foundation and exposure to technology to dive in,” he said.

But using the ThinkLab just isn’t centered around sixth-graders. Students throughout the school are learning coding. Second-graders created a storyboard and by using a series of dashes and dots for programming, tried out Ozobots. Eighth-graders may be trying to program Lego Mindstorm EV3s.

Librarian Missy Badberg ran the school’s Hour of Code before the ThinkLab opened. It was in the interest generated by students there that former Head of School Heather Shepherd identified a need for a permanent rotation instead of an event once per year.

“She was able to get us funding and STEM grants to open this in a classroom and supply us with Spheros, 3D printers, electronics, Chromebooks and everything we need,” Badberg said. 

Students rotate in the ThinkLab with their classes. Sixth- and eighth-graders are required to take technology, but also may take an elective of robotics. Kindergartners through fifth-grade students attend technology class in their regular rotations with music, art, library and physical education. 

The ThinkLab isn’t just restricted to in-school sessions. Students have learned how to remove computer viruses, install RAM, learn binary code and do basic repair and building of computers after school.

“Installing RAM takes about 30 seconds and removing a virus is simple, and these skills will save these students money and make them more knowledgeable for the world they’re entering,” Meyers said. 

Badberg also has introduced Girls who Code, a supportive, 10-week club where girls can learn the concepts of computer programming such as loops, variables, conditionals and functions that form basic programming languages.

“We want to nurture more students to explore more in coding and make it more of a focus through a project,” she said.

The support of the ThinkLab has turned the annual school carnival into a Maker Event, where students are able to make bristle bots and rocket launchers to a cardboard city and tear apart electronics to figure out how they work.

“This is awesome,” Meyers said. “The kids are getting together to learn. They’re exploring, creating and testing ideas. Every day, they’re so excited.”