During the summer of 2015, I spent my time at NC State learning about nanotechnology and sensor devices under the tutelage of Dr. Jess Jur and Dr. Elena Veety as a Kenan Fellow. During my time there, we explored using the Texas Instruments SensorTag CC2650STK to explore the use of sensors in collecting experimental data. As part of the program, we had to create a lesson that could be shared with teachers around the state. I used my experience with the SensorTag to create a lesson to be used by CTE teachers. The overall goals of this lesson included:
During the school year when I first implemented the lesson, I spent a lot of time on the background information. We took several weeks learning about sensors, their uses and why they are important before getting into the meat of the assignment on data manipulation. This year, I trimmed out a lot of the time spent on sensors. I had students research sensors and create infographics, but we forewent guest speakers and extra exercises that involved a lot of data manipulation outside of the actual lesson. By doing this, I trimmed down the amount of time we spent on material that was not part of the lesson and streamlined the completion of the unit on data visualization as whole.
This week, students will only be in school for two days as it is Thanksgiving week. They will spend today and early next week after returning from the break collecting sensor data based on their own experimental design. They will then have slightly over a week of hands-on experience with data manipulation, writing a short report about their data, creating an infographic based on that report, and presenting their results to the class.
Understanding how to manipulate data is important in a wide variety of industries. So, why did I try my best to speed up how we explore this important topic? Being at a magnet school with a focus on the arts, my students took an interest in game design with the expressed interest in artistic side of the industry. While data manipulation is important for game designers when examining the marketability of their game concepts, most of my students are interested in the artistic side of the industry. Up to this point, a lot of the work my students in Sci Vis have completed is related to science and/or other areas outside of art. It is well-passed time to make the move into examining the more artistic side of the curriculum. Besides being the reason students took my class in the first place, doing so as early as possible also encourages them to stay in my concentration right before we start looking at next school year's scheduling in the early Spring. If they do not get some art before then, they may not see the larger picture where it is important to take this class prior to getting into working with games next year. And, that worries me.
It is easy to tell when a project/assignment has truly motivated a group of students. To ensure this result, one must make certain there is a clear purpose behind the lesson and students understand that purpose. One of the best ways this takes place is by using hands-on, community service-based projects that take on meaning outside of a number in a teacher's gradebook. This is certainly the case for my CTE Advanced Studies students who are working on the VR Prison Flip project.
This past Monday, while all their classmates were enjoying an extended weekend, eight students rose out of bed early to meet me at DSA for a trip to the prison site in Scotland County. Each knew we were leaving campus at 7am and agreed this trip was essential to our success, despite the sacrifices they needed to make. After a two hour drive, we arrived and began put the plan we established the previous week into motion in order to gather all the measurements needed to complete our modeling of the prison. The students were divided into two teams of four with each individual having a distinct job: two were to take the physical measurements using both tape and laser measuring tools, one was to record those measurements on hand sketches of each building and the fourth was to photograph everything possible to get a sense of textures and physical space. Since we only need to be concerned with one building's interior, one team was assigned to measure it while the other would start measuring every other building's exterior on the site.
It was decided that our first area of focus would be the old cell block building. In terms of projected purpose and complexity, this was the most important building on the site. Besides being oddly shaped, this was the only facility that required interior measurements. So we knew we would be spending the majority of the trip on it. Growing Change envisions this building being used as a museum/conference space as well as housing for visitors of incarcerated family members just down the road at the new prison facility.
Once inside, the students had to plan how to attack small rooms, hallways, and how measure locked areas. It was quickly discovered that the building was completely symmetrical, making the task at hand much easier than originally expected. They measured everything they could including individual cells and the objects contained within them. They could then transfer the measurements quickly to the other side of the sketch and before they knew it, they were done! Still, due to the importance of precision, it took them a couple of hours to complete their assigned location.
On the outside, the building had more walls than the average building with twists and turns at nearly every 30 feet! Students also realized it was important to locate every window's location. They did this by measuring a single window and then identifying how far it was from the edge of the building to the center location of each window along the wall. This way, they could center the windows on that spot and require fewer numbers to crunch when we returned to campus.
After a short break for lunch, the students tackled the remaining buildings at the prison. The goal was to complete the rest of the facility as fast and accurately as possible so we could make it back to Durham ahead of schedule. The site was split up and each team knew what they needed to do. Luckily, the remaining buildings were generally rectangular in design, making the afternoon work much easier than the morning. And by mid-afternoon, we were back on the bus and headed home arriving on campus at 5:30!
The trip made for a long and busy day together but it was also very productive. So, what did the students take away from this trip? Besides collecting the remaining measurements needed to complete the project, they put skills learned in math class to practical use. Some of the buildings were too tall to measure by hand as we didn't have access to a ladder, so they had to estimate roof angles to calculate actual height. Besides typical class lessons, students learned the importance of attention to detail and planning. Much of the interior was glossed over in terms of content capture until we discussed what needed to be measured to get an accurate vision of the site's current state. And, they saw how coming together as a team with a plan can help them all benefit in completing this ambitious project. I think it is fair to say that sacrificing our time off to work on the VR Prison Flip project was a day well spent!
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.