Testing F1 Vehicles

Our first run of testing F1 racing cars that were designed and manufactured at Quantum Victoria using CAD/CAM processes, on a 25m elevated track with timing gates. (Best run was 25m in 1.6sec – we need to be shaving at least 0.6 second – kudos to Joel Willis for beating me thoroughly by 0.2 seconds, even though I had the best reaction time – makes my design even worse!)

The actual design, once machined looks like this.

F1 Car

Design & Analysis of F1 Racing Vehicles

At Quantum Victoria students have the opportunity to design a Formula 1 racing vehicle using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, engage in mathematical modeling, analyze computational fluid dynamics by using a virtual wind tunnel, and then construct their design using a manufacturing unit. They will then race their designs to see who truly has “The Need for Speed.”

This program is multi-faceted and multidisciplinary – it is true PBL. It inspires students to learn about engineering principles such as physics, aerodynamics, design, manufacturing, leadership, teamwork, media skills and project management, and then apply them in practical, creative and exciting ways. It raises awareness of careers and pathways related to Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM). Students use industry level, 3D CAD/CAM and simulation technologies to design, analyze, test, manufacture and race miniature CO2 powered balsa wood cars.

After this 5 day program, students and schools may well be inspired to compete in the F1 in Schools Challenge and work their way to a spot in the World Championships!

Using CATIA, this is an intial design based on design specifications that basically constrain the car to the size of the material being used – in this case balsa with dimensions 223x50x65.

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Using the Generative Structural Analysis capabability of CATIA, this is a preliminary Finite Element Analysis to see how the design holds up under external forces.

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Using this technique students engage in some sophisticated property analysis of materials including Young’s modulus, Poisson’s ratio, Density, Yield strength’s and coefficients of thermal expansion and look to optimize their design in relation to the material being used. 

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As part of marketing their car and producing an exhibition display space, students have to produce photo-realistic images and put together an assembly so that their design actually looks like an F1 racing vehicle.

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They then  render their car assembly to make it appear as if the car is actually real – granted this attempt is miserable (Still learning about photorendering…)

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Collaborations between industry partners and actual designers and engineer’s are encouraged, as students learn about computational fluid dynamics, virtual wind tunnels and CAM processes. Put this all together with designing team shirts, public speaking, project planning, development and management, resource procurement, graphic design and manufacturing engineering, resource management and team work, make this program one with incredible depth.

A photo of a half-machined car. (In the background is our MRC40 CNC Router)

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There is nothing wrong with this picture

Today I spent the day with Grade 3&4 students playing & designing in Little Big Planet and learnt more about them in 4 hours than some teachers would in six months – and yet, some teachers would scoff at this picture and say that it isn’t rigorous and nothing of value could possibly be going on here. Play is for home. Play is for ‘free-time.’ Play is for children and only after the ‘hard work’ has been done…

At its most basic level, play fosters creativity and imagination and connects pleasurable emotions to learning. This is what ‘back to basics’ should be all about.

Play with your students. Get down on their level. Learn with them.

It’s empowering.

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Data Driven Bullshit

Yesterday I saw a Grade 3 child, who has a love for learning and life, retreat into a shell of his former self. This child has missed the entire last week of school, and since the year began, almost missed 15 days of school, due to very significant home issues.

It broke my heart.

If students are struggling at school, ask yourself why? Is it that the ‘curriculum’ is beyond it’s use by date or is it because the child is having such a difficult time outside of school and is being asked to behave in both a mature & emotional level well beyond their years? Think of the impact that a difficult home environment has on the development of a child, and then compare this with the pettiness and insignificance of data driven approaches that require a child to be tested till they bleed.

Seriously, what is the purpose of education? It’s about the kids. The emotional well-being of kids. Lets get in touch with reality…

Games & School: The Failure Argument

Failure is a concept that we are all familiar with. In school you likely passed or failed. You made the basketball or football team or you didn’t. And if you did fail, perhaps your parent or guardian was there to tell you, “don’t worry about it, we will try harder next time and you will succeed, mark my words.” Except in rare circumstances where a students intrinsic motivation, life at home and belief in oneself is in perfect harmony, the most likely result from students failing at something is that they will expect to perform similarly on similar tasks in the future. Failure engenders a feeling of incompetence or helplessness in most people.

In Perceiving the Causes of Success or Failure, Weiner states that when one thinks of success or failure, the four factors that come to mind are effort, ability, luck and difficulty. The first two factors, effort and ability are features of the student, whilst the last two are external. 

When the emphasis is on how students are performing, like it is in most schools, the perception of static intelligence is perpetrated throughout the community, usually during conversations between parents and their children, “I was never any good at math,” which in turn becomes a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy which alienates children from the subject area that their parents were no good at. This mindset is the ability mindset, and hints at the fact that no matter how much effort one puts in, they are just not that intelligent when it comes to mathematical thinking.

Alfie Kohn, in The Schools Our Children Deserve, states that,

“When kids are led to focus on how well they are performing in school, they tend to explain their performances not by how hard they tried but by how smart they are. Research demonstrates that when students who explain how well their doing on the basis of ability, tend to think less deeply and carefully about what they’re learning.”

As an aside, this is my main problem with gamification – the adding of an extrinsic layer is at odds with what makes a learning activity or a game good in the first place. What typically motivates a student/player to gain mastery over a game and spend a great deal of time with it is intrinsic. The reward mechanic of a game or learning activity (leveling up, unlocking an ability or item) is only a small part of what makes it successful. By adding a rewards layar to something in the classroom (badges, experience points – Lee Sheldon, The Mutiplayer Classroom), sometimes the focus then becomes the reward, to the detriment of what you were trying to achieve initially – mastery over content. In a ‘Gamified’ classroom, how many students are just brushing over content superficially in order to ‘level up’ as quickly as possible? Gamification assumes that a player/student isn’t especially motivated to begin with, and then provides incentives to ramp up that motivation – with games it is the opposite – students are motivated to begin with and it is the design of the game that provides motivation, namely that students are always within their zone of proximal development. A consequence of this is that gamification than has the potential to glamorize a poorly designed curriculum, or curriculum that may have been no good to begin with.

The argument or comparison about failure in games and schools is something I have been struggling with. At it’s most basic level it seems too simplistic.

Failure is discouraged at school – in school, typically the process is that students would hand in an essay, project etc. for the teacher to grade. This assessment is summative and depending on the circumstance, one could argue that the student learns very little about the process, irrespective of the depth of feedback obtained from their teacher. The student either fails or they pass. And then they move onto the next topic. Whereas with well-designed games, a culture of informal formative assessment is present, where failure is a form of progression rather than being a sorting mechanism, and the feedback gained in real-time allows the player to adapt and overcome any and all obstacles in front of them.

James Paul Gee often talks about video games creating a psychosocial moratorium – that is a learning space in which the learner can take risks where real-world consequences are lowered. The cost of failure in these environments is not prohibitive, as it is so often in schools. As Gee is one of the definitive scholars in using games for learning, most cite his work and say that school should then be more like a game. And this is where I have difficulty. Think of the most complicated game that has levelling mechanics, maybe World of Warcraft, maybe Skyrim, and apply this process of failure as a form of progression. A player grinds toward the next level up, often fails, but then gains mastery or unlocks a new skill such as the ability to cast a new spell. Relating this to the current state of education; the grind is the process of gaining mastery, whilst the level-up is the point in which one can fluently wield the destructive powers of say, Calculus.

I don’t think I like the comparison. Yes, the structure of the curriculum should allow repeated failures and allow students to go through a process of iteration in relation to their coursework. And yes, as educationalists, I believe that we have much to learn from games designers and can leverage much of what makes games so compelling in our design of engaging curriculum. But something doesn’t sit easy with me when making this comparison between games and school… 

What am I missing?

Nintendo at Oakdale

Dawn Hallybone recently hosted Lynette Barr and I at Oakdale Junior School, where we got to see some games-based learning in action in a primary setting.

As the students entered the room they were instructed to collect a Nintendo DS and then sitting in pairs, use the Time Lapse activity, which is part of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training. Time Lapse displays two analog clocks and requires the students to calculate the difference in time between these clocks.

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The students were given ten minutes to complete as many of the problems as possible. Students were discussing their strategies and engaging in some genuine collaborative problem solving. Too often, students are put into ‘solitary confinement’ in the classroom due to traditionalists evoking romantic, and somewhat deluded notions of nostalgia, where ‘rigorous learning’ only occurs independently, but this deprives students of one another’s ideas and disagreements.

“Thus, the source of intellectual growth is conflict.” – Alfie Kohn

There has been much research both supporting and debunking the cognitive benefits of using Brain Training, but used in this context I could see real benefit in having students verbalize their thinking. (see:

Once the DS’s were put away, the students engaged in some data collection Using Wii Sports for Averages, where the data they collected was used to explore the concepts of mean, median and mode. Students were hypothesising and conjecturing without fear of being incorrect, and some deductive and logical reasoning was evident that is unusual to see in students of that age – eg. “Well, I know that the answer isn’t…”

Repetition, reinforcement, processing, active learning and communication were all evident as students ‘oohhed’ and ‘ahhed’ there way through a game of ten-pin bowling. Something very simple that shifted the emphasis of the classroom, was the fact that each group had a small whiteboard and whiteboard marker to use – this shifted the emphasis from taking notes and filling in worksheets, to having students internalize the concepts by engaging in discussions with their peers and their teacher. Something simple, but I felt it made a real difference to engagement levels.

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“Talking is not merely a way of conveying existing ideas to others; it is also a way by which we explore ideas, clarify them and make them our own.” – Michael Marland

Every minute a teacher is doing the talking is a minute this isn’t happening. Very little direct instruction was given as Dawn didn’t monopolize the classroom and gave her students a real chance to talk – and therefore to learn.

A big thanks to Dawn for her hospitality!

KickStarter: Approaching the Elephant

Approaching the Elephant is a proposed documentary by film-maker Amanda Wilder.

From KickStarter;

“Imagine attending a school where it’s up to you what you learn. No class is mandatory. Rules and judicial decisions are determined by democratic vote. Everyone from the youngest person, who could be as young as five years old, to the director of the school, has an equal say in how the school runs. Whether your response to this picture is, ‘I love it! Send me, this is my bag!’ or, ‘Horrible! Anarchy! Hogwash! Don’t tell me it’s real!’ I bet you’ll itch to know more. Free schools are rare birds, radically different from conventional models of ‘school.’ Approaching the Elephant takes its audience into a free school, and through carefully observed scenes cut and strung into an engaging story, invites viewers to fundamentally reconsider the rights of children and how we learn.”

This documentary would be a valuable addition to the larger narrative of the notion of ‘school.’

$8568 has been pledged so far of a goal of $14500 – if you would like to see this film made, please consider donating.

Democratic Schools – Summerhill

A. S. Neill’s Summerhill School in Suffolk, UK is a completely democratic school. Students of all ages decide for themselves what they will do and when, how and where they will do it.

“This freedom is at the heart of the school; it belongs to students as their right, not to be violated. The fundamental premise of the school is that “all people are curious by nature ; that the most efficient, long-lasting  and profound learning takes place when started and pursued by the learner; that all people are creative if they are allowed to develop their unique talents; that age-mixing among students promotes growth in all members of the group; and that freedom is essential to the development of personal responsibility.”

From their website,

The important freedom at Summerhill is the right to play. All lessons are optional. There is no pressure to conform to adult ideas of growing up, though the community itself has expectation of reasonable conduct from individual.

Sounds like my kind of school.

Interested to hear from anyone who has had experience with democratic schools. 

Factory of a Better Tomorrow

Little Big Planet 2 is a multiplayer game that catapults the student into the role of developer/designer and producer. It gives the students an array of tools to build levels and then share them with the world. Using this game promotes 21st century skills such as problem solving, creativity, communication, collaboration and higher-order thinking. The game includes an accurate physics engine that allows exploration of a host of physical and mathematical concepts such as force, momentum, gravity, drift, scale, radius etc.

This is the first of many student activities I will be posting – enjoy.

Unlimited: High School for the 21st Century

Whilst in Christchurch last week I got a chance to visit Unlimited: High School for the 21st Century. Unlimited is a school situated in the middle of Christchurch and is basically a high-rise building situated above a shopping centre. Just across the street is Discovery1, a primary school that is based on the same premise. This premise is based around 10 special characteristics or guiding principals:

1. Students are central in directing their own learning

2. Students follow individual interests and enthusiasms

3. Curriculum and qualification needs are met through a student’s chosen path, not a prescribed route

4. Learning experiences extend beyond boundaries of time, place, age, methods of learning and areas of study

5. The entire community is the learning environment

6. Families are vital and active partners in the holistic learning of students

7. We encourage, nurture and celebrate creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship

8. The individuality of each student is valued

9. We are a high trust community, traeting each other with mutual respect and kindness

10. Everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher

Each student gets to select their home base mentor who becomes a very important person in the students experience and liases closely with parents throughout their time at Unlimited. Teachers are called Learning Advisors, and everyone is on a first name basis, including the Principal, who plays an active role in the day to day running of the school. Students can attend classes if they want to, but it is not compulsory. Instead, they can work on independent and collaborative learning, engaged in projects that are personally meaningful.

(When students first arrive at Unlimited, the Principal admitted that some students struggled to come to terms with the freedom and did not have the skills or discipline required to undertake independent learning. To combat this issue, when students first arrive, they are put through a 10 week personal development program that has a strong personal health and fitness/gym program where students are taught about self-discipline and goal setting.)

The buildings consist of enormous open spaces, comfortable furniture, collaborative and private spaces, but what I thought to be striking initially was the lack of technology. Only one high-end PC lab was visible with a few desktops placed strategically around the buildings. (A majority of students actually brought in their own devices and had them connected to the wireless network.) Instead of worrying about performance on standardized tests (which they were still way above their district average), Unlimited’s measure of success was the number of students entering university and the workforce (A figure which I think was about 85%)

In Australia, with increased emphasis on standardized tests like NAPLAN, the teaching profession by and large is dismayed that they have to ‘teach to the test.’ Unlimited proves to a certain extent I think, that if project-based learning is done well, students will still perform on these types of tests.

Earlier this year, I got a chance to listen to Yong Zhao speak, who said “Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything thats counted, counts” and this is something that is still resonating with me. The facts are pretty simple. Students today don’t respond to chalk and talk. Granted, their is still a place for explicit teaching in some cases, but a shift towards project-based learning engages students deeply, lets them be active participants in their learning, and develops the essential skills of critical thinking, networking, innovation, problem solving, creativity and also gives them a sense of pride in what they do. “Standardized” skills in the future will be outsourced to a country where labour is cheaper (already we are seeing this) – what will be valued are the so called 21st century skills.

The evidence is mounting that project-based learning works (see http://www.edutopia.org/blog/project-based-learning-findings-study-bob-lenz)

How does your school encourage, nurture and celebrate creativity, innovation and entreprenuership?