Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Out of this world learning at Center for Technology in Essex



Recently I have taken on a professional inquiry seeking ways that the tools and skills found in maker-spaces can be used to meet Next Generation Science Standard.  As part of this inquiry, I had the good fortune to meet Jennifer Liguori as she and her  students were using a 3D printer and laser cutter from their maker lab to design pieces that would be used with the Ardunio microprocessor they were programming as part of a design that would be used in an upcoming Balloon Launch.


Last week, students at the Center for Technology at Essex had an out of this world experience, that will most likely become one of their most vivid memories of high school.  On April 15, 2015, they successfully recorded the flight of a man-made balloon into the stratosphere and back, navigating their way through real world challenges that ranged from powering a data-logging Arduino through subzero temperatures to retrieving the payload in the midst of Vermont’s infamous mud season.



This type of project-based learning is the type of learning that students remember.  It’s not knowledge that’s easily forgotten after the test.   It’s real world learning and problem-solving that inspires students to obtain deeper knowledge and inquiry than any text-book could.

This inquiry driven project based learning environment doesn’t just happen.  It takes a masterful teacher to design project based learning that is powerful and meaningful, and as I interviewed Jennifer Ligouri, science teacher at Essex Technical Center, it was evident to me that her passion  for kids,  passion for learning,  passion of science combined with masterful teaching were at the heart of this exciting and successful experience.


Listen to Jennifer describe the design of the project, the pre-flight testing,  the flight,  and the challenges that Vermont's mud season and lack of cell service brought to the chase and retrieval of the balloon's payload, and the successful retrieval of data collected during flight.

As you can tell from listening to the interview above,  instrumental to this project  was access to affordable technology tools that are empowering a new generation of innovators, makers, and problem-solvers. 

Tools like 3D printers,  laser cutters, Arduino microprocessors, sensors, spot GPS technology, and ultralight cameras, were all part of the design created by the team from Center for Technology at Essex.  

These tools are becoming more and more accessible to students  with the growth of the maker movement in our communities, not only in terms of cost and availability, but also in terms of people who are sharing their knowledge and experiences in how to use these tools.  Whether it be through the local maker community or the global connection made possible through the Internet, today’s students can pursue solutions to challenges like making a balloon that will reach the stratosphere.

The student have decided to enter their project to compete in several categories of  the Global Space Balloon Challenge including highest flight, best pictures, and first balloon flight design created with maker tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters.














Thank you to Jennifer Ligouri, her colleagues and students from the Computer Animation and Web Design program at the  Center for Technology at Essex for sharing their story with us.  Read more about their journey on their blog post detailing the process. 

You will find their photos from the balloon and video of adventures at http://www.cawdvt.org/resources/balloon-launch/
and video from the flight here: https://vimeo.com/125172889
See also:  Burlington Free Press Article
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