Sounds from the Cathedral

Building their own version of virtual keyboard, thirty-four sixth graders who under the tutelage of a very enthusiastic teacher, Mrs. Kay Power, acquired the necessary knowledge to extend that experience into a bonafide game design effort earlier today at the Cathedral School in Bismarck, ND.

The Makey Makey is a device that connects to a computer as simply as a mouse or a keyboard does via a USB port, and in this case were Google Chromebooks, laptop systems that require WIFI-only access to the World-Wide-Web.

Up arrow, down, left and right alongside shift and click are the default six key presses to musical creativity by these young Catholics.

Their version of the Makey Makey piano was somewhat sophisticated, using the Scratch 2 scripting system, each of the students having Scratch user accounts, and therefore a public license to build and host software creations.

Sprites as characters on a theatrical stage and in costume, are scripted for motion and song, as a metaphor for what is essentially an introduction to computer science and software engineering.

Class, class, please welcome Dr. David DeMuth announced Mrs. Power, who then followed that invitation with what seemed to be a familiar conversation on the atom, its nucleus of particles, and orbiting electrons, topics addressed recently in their classroom.

But what was not familiar were the neutrinos he spoke about emanating from the Sun with an overwhelming presence, and of the phenomena that was only (relatively) recently disclosed, and via mechanisms that have yet to be fully understood.

Physicists rely frequently on computers and customized software to support their arguments of discovery, this explanation setting a context for Dr. DeMuth’s innate ability to be teaching computer-based game design.

He explained then on how static charge passes from your charged body to that shocking door knob on those dry winter days using the John Travoltage simulation for illustration.

It’s those numerous charge carriers (blue colored spheroids – if you get the chance to try out the PHET app) when allowed will follow a path of least resistance along a wired course that demonstrated to these students electricity; together they wired a bulb and a battery to illuminate a bulb, and with two batteries, an even more illuminated bulb.

The Makey Makey’s fundamental context is conduction. holding hands, conducting students laughed as the Makey Makey’s bongos and piano were played through themselves.

Up arrow, down, left and right alongside shift and click triggering sounds on their web machines. Even more interesting was when Play-doh controllers were sculpted and used as the triggering medium.

With game design the central goal, and with previous effort using Scratch 2, Mrs. Powers instructed all students to disconnect their Makey Makey USB cables to focus instead on the making of a Pong Game, DeMuth prodding for any who might not know of such a game – it seemed unanimous, all knew, some admitting they had even toyed with making their own.

After thirty minutes of direction, Pong v1.0 were had by all, scripted bats and bouncing balls complete with sounds and scoring – most thrilling for a 6th grade class!

With their Scratch pianos they made previously, what remained was the challenge to arrange and embed their musical compositions into their own Pong game, and ideally in advance of a return performance to develop a Mario Brothers-like platform game.

The project was funded by the kind assistance of the North Dakota Council on the Arts as part of their Artist in Residence program and their insistence to demonstrate STEAM as inate to STEM, something Arts in Education Director Rebecca Engelman sustains with vigor.

The Makey Makey project extends from earlier work at Valley City State University which was also funded by the Council on the Arts, and if the impact on these young Catholics and participating teachers is indication, an activity that will continue to drive more interest in STEM.

See also subsequent May 11, 2015 article:

and television coverage:

STEAM: The A is also for Agriculture

In a rural community where John Deere Corp. produces tillage and seeding equipment, Valley City, ND,  surrounded by farms and ranches is an ideal location for the  78th annual North Dakota Winter Show.

Any of the 71,000+ that attended Winter Show had an opportunity to discover an interactive STEM+Agriculture exhibit that staff at the Great Plains STEM Education Center coordinate as part of the Center’s education and outreach mission.

In the three days of the event, nearly 1000 people sat in a Case IH tractor, and in a simulated farm field, drove, plowed, seeded, or harvested corn in an effort to demonstrate the complex and integrative aspects of farming.

For example in the seeding mode of the simulator, “farmers” are asked to select a seeding rate and then are scored on an ability to balance rate with speed, and similarly when harvesting corn, head height and speed are to be balanced.16763391201_12c1c051df_k

The intricacies of the software design are the sum of efforts by the Center’s Amanda Fickes, John Boucha, accompanied by programmers Jarrod Lactot and Lucas Sorenson, and this author.

Adjacent to the Ag Cab Lab was the arcade styled Ethanol Racer that while challenging a player’s driving skill, coaches on the role that ethanol fuels have on reducing smog, a by-product of burning conventional fuels in metropolitan areas.

As agricultural areas are often the favored locations to site wind farms, a novel experiment was a part of the inter Show STEAM exhibit: design a wind turbine blade generator system that when subjected to a standard window box fan (on high speed) would produce a maximum amount of power as measured by an attached volt meter.

Guiding their effort was Amanda alongside her three interns who prompted a selection on the number of blades, of geometries for blade shape, a protracted blade pitch, and on the recording of relevant data both in tabular form on paper and then entering that data through a web-based touch screen graphical interface. 16577166320_bfc52831bf_k

Once entered, data was displayed and interpreted for patterns between any of the four variables with generation voltage. Guiding the participants work throughout was the Engineering Design Process that is often cited as essential to a STEM Learning.

The three intens are VCSU undergraduates Michaela Halvorson,  Alexis Getzlaff, and Garret Hecker each who earned an internship sponsored by the State Historical Society of North Dakota through a Great Plains STEM Education Center partnership to develop teacher training modules for a renewable energy S.E.N.D. trunk the Center designed.

Adjacently, the [original] Pickled Fish project prompted participants to identify any of the native fish species suspended in ethanol  at the Winter Show with impressive attention, signaling to Center staff that a traveling trunk would be popular among K-12 teachers in North Dakota.  16763384091_2eb220c8fd_k

Funding to attend the Winter Show was made available by the North Dakota Corn Growers with additional support provided via Jeff Beckman and the Minnesota Farm Bureau, and a recent permanent exhibit installation in Bismarck’s Heritage Center fueling design work.

See also our Flickr site for this event: