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Fans are awesome. At Pitsco, we recognized this simple fact and decided to create a few products to make fans even more awesome.

The Air Stream and Air Control Funnel are modest additions to regular box fans that make fans even better for classroom usage.

AirStream_350px_1116The Air Stream is a cardboard grid add-on that straps to the front of a box fan. While it sounds simple, the addition of the grid changes the flow of wind generated from the fan.

Usually fans produce a turbulent airflow that’s rough and inconsistent. The Air Stream fixes this problem and produces a laminar flow, or smooth airflow, from the fan. Now, experiments with wind turbines (such as the Eco-Wind Gen II or the WinDynamo III) can become easier and more consistent.

The Air Control Funnel has a similar grid add-on that straps to the front of a box fan, but it also funnels the airflow to a point. This funnel causes the airflow to move in a concentrated laminar flow. Projects based around airfoils are great to use with the Air Control Funnel, such as the Wing Build Kit and the Wing Test Stand.

When using the Wing Build Kit, students design and create their own airfoil. After building the airfoil, students can use AirControlFunnel_350px_1116the Wing Test Stand and the Air Control Funnel to test the lift of their design. Each of these products works together for greater learning.

So, take a box fan to the next level in your classroom. These simple alterations will make a huge difference in testing the results of experiments! Visit www.pitsco.com to learn more about the Air Stream, Air Control Funnel, and other STEM offerings.

Related links:
Air Stream video
Air Control Funnel video
Wing Test Stand video

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Mark Gullickson used to spend his time studying the past. “I was a professional museum educator and living history interpreter,” said Gullickson. “I also worked for a number of years as a professional archaeologist.”

But now, Gullickson’s interests are very much in the present. As a third-grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in Albany, Oregon, Gullickson, Pitsco’s December 2016 Teacher of the Month, enjoys finding new ways to integrate STEM concepts into his classroom. “I continue to ask myself daily, ‘What qualities, skills, and experiences will my students need in order to learn, grow, and thrive in this unprecedented, fast-evolving, technologically driven global community that they live in?’” he explained.

“With this mindset in place, I have spent the past 15 years developing curricula infused with technology and innovative learning opportunities that engage and inspire students.”

His own hands-on experiences through archaeology have served as a great foundation for teaching, he explained. “These experiences, combined with my passion for project-based learning, have helped me to foster within my students a deeper appreciation and understanding of the world around them. Today, I’m continually seeking new and exciting ways to engage my students in real-life, project-based programs related to STEM and the history of the Pacific Northwest.”

To further foster STEM interests, Gullickson also directs elementary and middle school-level STEM/STEAM programs and coaches FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL®) Robotics Teams. Three of his FLL teams were state champions, including one all-girl team whose research project was chosen by FLL to be published and shared worldwide. “Their work eventually went on to be accessed by classrooms throughout the world – including schools in Russia, England, and Germany,” said Gullickson.

“The problem solving, critical thinking skills, and originality of these students’ STEM project truly made the adage of acting globally an authentic learning experience for them.”

These are the types of experiences that make teaching worthwhile for Gullickson. “It never ceases to amaze me when my students are able to discover and share their ‘aha’ moments with others,” he said. “This has been especially rewarding for me when seeing those students that otherwise may have never before had opportunities to design, build, and program a robot create and print their own 3-D creations or raise, care for, and release wild steelhead or salmon they have raised in our classroom. I count these among the greatest accomplishments in my career so far.”

Mark Gullickson, thank you for using your experiences and excitement about the world around us to inspire the next generation of STEM learners. Congratulations on being named Pitsco’s December 2016 Teacher of the Month.

Learn more about Mark Gullickson.

Learn more about the “Bacon Bricks” FLL team and their research project that went global:

Read about our other Teacher of the Month recipients at Pitsco.com/TeacheroftheMonth.

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The temperatures might be quickly cooling off in this corner of Kansas, but my thoughts are still on a recent warmer, sunnier time. In late June, I traveled with Mohit Abraham, our International Sales Manager, to the Dominican Republic to meet with STEM UM, an education dealer, to learn more about how they serve teachers and define success.

International business can be complicated. I’m not bilingual, so this trip was something of a challenge for me. However, my hosts were very gracious and hospitable, which made navigating any challenges and language barriers much easier on me.

Mohit is our expert on all things international, but one thing I took away from our visit is that no matter the differences from country to country, we can be united by common goals.

Two key topics we discussed were robotics and STEM, which are currently hot topics in both the United States and in the Dominican Republic, and for good reason with the many benefits these areas can bring to students. In addition to the education dealer, we met with Claudio Rita Abreu Herrara, the Director at Ministry of Education, and a robotics coach named Carlos.

This group gave great input about how they use our TETRIX® robotics building system in their country, what professional development needs must be met to ensure that their teachers and users successful, and what their long-term education plans are. Since our meeting in the Dominican this summer, both Carlos and Elias have visited us in Pittsburg, KS to collaborate on robotics and STEM options.

No matter where you go or who you work with, several factors remain the same: work with a trusted partner, establish mutual goals, and develop a plan for success.

In the Dominican Republic, I might have eaten a few things I still can’t identify and struggled over a language barrier or two, but the common ground was more than enough to make this a very successful endeavor. I look forward to continued collaboration!

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By Robert Jernigan, TAG Member, Okaloosa STEMM Academy, Valparaiso, FL

I teach IT classes at a STEMM Center in Okaloosa County, Florida, and my degree is in programming. Previously, I was struggling to retain students in my coding classes. We’re lucky to live in a county with a military installation, which game me an opportunity to asked a community engineer or military technician to aid me in developing curriculum for my program as my hardware skills were lacking.

Mr. Eric Werkowitz answered the call for community service. He’s a retired engineer and veteran from the local military base.

RobotBlog_1116We decided to use electrical engineering and robots to encourage kids to use programming and math in real world situations.

Cost was a major consideration as my classes are generally in the 25-student range. We used the TETRIX® framework and the Arduino UNO with a motor controller shield as our brain brick funded by writing grants. The project cost for six kits was around $2,000 dollars, and most electronic parts were purchased online and easily researched.

Then, my training began. Mr. Werkowitz researched Arduino DIY robotic projects and we built multiple prototypes after school. He taught me the basics of electrical engineering (EE) by testing various robot configurations. His pathfinding allowed me to learn in four months what would have taken me, on my own limited time, about three years. Our first robots were RC controlled bots to teach the students the necessary EE skills so they could build a basic robot. Then we moved on to a moth/cockroach robot that sought out the light or the darkness to learn advanced electrical circuits.

Now I teach seventh- and eighth-grade students how to build a GPS robot that can determine its heading and then move to a longitude and latitude specified in the code.

Our programming is progressing nicely, giving the students base code that they’ll have to modify to program a robot. The activity is to run a salesman algorithm to travel to four GPS transmitters by seeking the closest GPS transmitter, eliminating it, and then looking for the next closest.

Mr. Werkowitz and I are building a GPS drone this year, and we will teach the process to students next year.

A tertiary effect of this collaboration is that now I use our LEGO® kits and Arduinos in my sixth-grade classes. I can teach my students to transition from block coding to C++ by adding an adapter for Ethernet motor cables. Our final eighth-grade project is to drop an insect trap or insect area denial scent to aid farmers in turning some of their acreage into organic farms and increase their profitability. One day we hope to encourage usage of robots in farming that work at night.

I have no problem getting students to return to the second year of programming now. The best compliment I received is from Gus Fontenot, a student, who said “I am so thankful for this class as I would be bored at a regular school.”

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We all know we should do it, but many of us don’t.

No, I’m not talking about saving money, exercising, or watching less TV. It’s about the foam prototyping step in the CO2 dragster building activity. So many people ignore this step, whether they’re making a basic dragster for a class activity or a gorgeous Custom Cruiser for display.

If you are one of the guilty party, here are four reasons to start using those foam blocks:

1. Foam is cheap. Wood, not so much.

Wood blanks are an expensive way to learn a lesson about how not to cut a dragster blank. Foam is a more affordable way to do that.

Wood blanks are an expensive way to learn a lesson about how not to cut a dragster blank. Foam is a more affordable way to do that.

For the budget-minded educator, making foam prototypes just makes sense. The likelihood of mistakes is higher if you don’t make a prototype. Wood blanks vary from $2.20 to $9 each, depending on wood and size. Foam blanks are $.60 each. So, what does that mean for your budget?

It means that if a student has a whoops moment twice before a successful finish and you have them using wood, the cost is $6.60. With foam prototyping it would be only $3.40. Extend that out to 20 students and six class periods a day and the savings can be $400 for this project alone when using the least expensive wood blank. If you use the most expensive blank options, your savings would be close to $700.

Plus, many kits that include the wood blank, hardware, and wheels also include the foam blank. Not using them is like throwing away money.

2. It helps students understand the cutting process before they cut into wood.

We all know that practice makes perfect, right? Well, prototyping a dragster is practice for the step-by-step cutting process of a car blank, which can be tricky and is often done incorrectly the first time around. The more practice your students have, the more successful they will be.

design_process_graphic3. It’s in the engineering design process.

And if you aren’t teaching that as part of the dragster activity, you really should be. Otherwise known as the engineering design loop, this reinforces that engineering is as much about testing and redesigning as it is about the initial design. And the redesign can drive up consumables costs, so using foam helps keep these costs low.

In engineering, success is rarely achieved on the first try, so learning this through a fun activity such as CO2 dragsters helps teach that lesson early on. If you need a little more information about this process, check out this section on the Science of Speed website.

4. Because it doesn’t have to be messy.

Yes, some people use hand tools to shape the foam, which is possible but also terribly messy. Another option is a foam cutter, which melts through the foam with a super-fine heated wire and doesn’t create all the dust and foam crumbs that hand tools often do.

At the Science of Speed website, we offer two different cutters. The Aero Viz Foam Cutter is a smaller cutter that is good for more freeform cutting and is easy on the budget. However, though more expensive,  the Free Hand Foam Cutter, with its 14″ x 14″ base, is better suited to the activity and offers positioning for square cuts as well as angled cuts.

So, are you convinced yet?

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Are you looking for FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) funding? We have the answer. Well, we can’t take credit for it. A couple of months ago, @TETRIXrobotics and several FTC teams got into a conversation about the best ways to get funding for robotics. It started when Team 8566 The Firebirds said they were struggling to find enough this year. Other teams were quick to step up and offer their best tips. You might find them helpful too, so here are the comments:

  • Yard sale, car wash, grants. I would apply for the PTC grant, we’ve gotten it the past two years, it’s great! – @MyDearBoston (The grant he is referring to has passed deadline for this year, but check back for next year at this link if you’re interested.)
  • Call every machine shop/parts supplier/engineering firm in town. Don’t ask for a dollar amount. – @cp
  • Have support tiers — $50 for bronze, $500 for gold, etc. — and perks at each level. – @cp
  • Most importantly, let them know that you’re learning how to be the kind of people they could one day hire. – @cp
  • Show them the game video. Hard to not get hooked at that point. – @cp
  • Make sure you show a company your fully written business plan including a budget (need it for notebook anyway). – @RoboticRams
  • I’m not sure if PTC looks at previous applications, but it doesn’t take too long to apply and it’s worth a lot. – @MyDearBoston
  • Create a strong Business Plan & connect with local eng. orgs. – SME, ASME, ASQ, SWE, etc. to get corp. contacts – @RohmingRobots
  • Also best fundraiser for us has been to hosting FLL camps. Starting with a weekend half-day camp might be best. – @RohmingRobots

Do you have any funding tips to share? Comment on this post or tweet them to us at @TETRIXrobotics. Thanks to all the teams who stepped up to help out a fellow team! This is just another example of how great the FIRST community is.

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In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, the coming generations have “a rendezvous with destiny.” And Pitsco has aided that educational destiny with an array of learning tools to pique the interests of numerous teachers and students.

Through creative and exciting products and curriculum such as Pitsco Makerspace Packages, the Extreme Earth Mission, and TETRIX® and the new TETRIX PRIZM™ Robotics Controller, Pitsco continues to be a leader on the trek toward the educational rendezvous. The stroll to that goal might be fraught with economic bumps, so the following sources could aide in traversing that path.

November 2016 “Grant Funding Leads” (PDF)

Additional Grant Resources

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Entering second semester is a great way to have a restart in your classroom. When I was a teacher, I found I could implement new (or higher) expectations with my students and better classroom management strategies.

Students need a refresher after their break. This gives you a second chance to adjust and improve on how things run in your classroom.

SemesterNext_300px_1116Before your students come back, revisit your school’s pacing guide or scope and sequence. Plan the rest of the year. If you struggled with something first semester, do some research. You might find new strategies to try or activities to implement with your students that you didn’t have time for first semester.

Here’s a list of ideas to implement with your students second semester in your classroom.

  • Review the school policies and your classroom expectations.
  • Discuss with students how to be organized and any specific procedures you expect them to follow regarding this.
  • Set a higher standard of expectations on student performance and grading.
  • Put more responsibility on the students to solve any problems.
  • Deter students from being reliant on you to answer their questions. Encourage them to troubleshoot and problem solve.
  • Assign students jobs and responsibilities that you would normally do.

If you teach a Pitsco lab, here’s some more ideas:

  • Do an abbreviated orientation on the lab process and your specific expectations for when they’re in the lab.
  • Set a higher standard of expectations on collaboration and teamwork during their experience.
  • Grade their work more closely for spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues.
  • Have the students do an inventory of their materials. They can report what’s missing and refill supplies for you.
  • Have the students complete the extra materials, such as Connections and Linkages, beyond their lab experience.

This is just a few ideas for mixing things up in your classroom. Don’t be afraid to try new things with your students. Setting high expectations gives your students something to aspire to achieve. You’d be amazed what they can accomplish!

Check out these links for additional resources for strategies to implement:

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By Greg Reiva, TAG member, Streamwood High School, Streamwood, IL

Each year students in my physical science classes at Streamwood High School utilize a Pitsco water bottle rocket launcher to culminate a unit in physics on kinematics. Launching water bottle rockets provides great opportunities for students to apply knowledge and understanding in physics and critically assess the motion of moving objects.

Students’ critical thinking skills are tested as they take on the challenge of investigating how chosen fin designs will impact the flight performance of water bottle rockets. This design challenge allows students to creatively influence the engineering of rockets. It’s a curriculum initiative that isn’t only engaging the students physically and emotionally, but it also positively influences their intrinsic motivation to learn.

This project enables students to develop their own brainstorm ideas, work cooperatively with fellow students to bring to fruition the testing of experimental designs and take pride in efforts put forth to solve problems. Students are able to evaluate experimental observations, diagnose evidence in support of their hypothesis, and eventually judge the superiority of one fin design over another.

I believe that a project such as the one detailed above is the means by which teachers can introduce to their students a curriculum focused on cognitive abilities. Students are given time to think about the process of investigation, critically assess the methodology employed in testing, and keep in mind why they are pursuing these goals that merit their efforts.

Roger Schank, Professor Emeritus and founder of the renowned Institute for the Learning Science at Northwestern University, writes in his book Teaching Minds, “Intelligence can be enhanced by practicing the cognitive processes that are the basis of intelligent behavior and intelligent reasoning.”

He continues this descriptive venue by further writing, “Intelligence is the ability to diagnose well, to plan well, and to be able to understand what causes what. To do this one must be able to reassess one’s belief system when new evidence is presented and one must be able to explain one’s reasoning clearly to those who ask. And, one must have a knowledge base of relevant information to draw upon.”

Twenty-first-century learning is about meeting and improving the mindset students bring into the classroom. Students become good at performing these cognitive processes, which are life skills. The fundamental cognitive processes such as diagnoses, causation, planning, prediction, and judgement need to be mastered.

Therefore, a teacher’s mission should be to facilitate repeated opportunities in school helping students develop cognitive abilities and skills within each student and increasing their abilities to make evidence-based judgements that are supported by experimentation and validate hypotheses. These are cognitive abilities that evolve into essential life skills.

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By Kristina Davis, Educational Program Designer

With experience as a former elementary teacher, it’s my opinion that having a good storage solution is vital not only for a teacher but also for students. Students feel empowered when they’re in charge of materials, which in turn gives them a sense of ownership of the classroom. The materials are now theirs as they get them out and put them away each time.

With all of this in mind, I embarked on a journey of finding a storage solution for our Pitsco Maker Space Packages.

Storage_Bins_400px_1116Each package has numerous Maker Projects that, if not stored, would be a huge undertaking for teachers to sort through and organize on their own. Pitsco CEO Harvey Dean’s first question at the start of my adventure was, “How can we make this easier on the teacher?” That question drove my process and brought the projects to where they are today.

Each Maker Project comes with the appropriate bins, labels, top card, and installation guide for how the projects should be stored. I spent several weeks in an office filled with products in boxes stacked to the ceiling and our storage bins that we use for our various curriculum solutions. During this time I unpacked each project, collected any extra materials or products included with the finished project, and placed them into bins.

After a few days, I became very good at eyeballing the products and knowing what bins they would fit in. It kind of became a game for me. I would write down my bin prediction and then give myself a star if I could fit all the products for that project in that bin. You can tell I was an elementary teacher now, right? Giving out star stickers was my go-to motivation!

During this process we had a few of our TAG (Teacher Advisory Group) members on campus. I was lucky enough to chat with them over lunch one day and found that they each had their own makerspace at their school. After picking their brains for a bit and showing them what I was working on, I knew I was on the right track for making our projects easy for the teacher to use and implement.

Storage_BoxesCeiling_400px_1116After I determined what storage bins would be used for each product, labeling became my focus. Because we have some projects that are shared between packages, the labels had to be descriptive enough to be used in one or several solutions. The final labels included with the projects state the project title, what level of package(s), and what grades we suggest it serve. We include two labels per bin, box, or item that is too large for either so that no matter how students put them away on the shelf, a label will still show.

In addition to the labels, each project comes with a top card. This card should be placed at the top of the shorter bins or on the side of the taller bins and can be seen through our clear lids or clear-sided bins. On the back of the card is a list of the items that are assigned to the bin.

This includes associated items that go with the project but aren’t stored in the bin (such as a Straw Rocket Launcher) or items that are required but aren’t part of the package (such as a sander). Also provided are the number of students the project can accommodate, an example activity, STEM connections, and relevant careers the project can be connected to as well as pictures of the items and a finished product image.

The final, and maybe most important, piece that we include with our packages is our installation guide.

This guide gives directions on how we suggest you store the materials with the storage bins we have provided. We also include information such as the product number (this makes it easy to reorder materials), the number of students served by the project, and any special instructions for items that might not fit in the provided bin(s).

While it’s been a long process that took a lot of teamwork to make it all happen, the Maker Project storage provides everything needed to make organizing and implementing them a breeze.

So, if you’re out there trying to join the maker movement or struggling with organizing materials for your makerspace, here is a list of Pitsco Maker Space Packages with links to where they can be found on our website to make your life easier.

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