STEM education

Assistive Technology -- High School Engineering Design Project using the "Makey Makey"


High school students design appropriate Assistive Technology solutions for elementary students with physical and cognitive disabilities.


Ten high school students enrolled in a year-long Computer Science course taught by Joe Speier at the Asheville School , a college preparatory school located in West Asheville. These ten students participated in a special project-based Engineering Design class taught by Tom Heck during the month of May 2014.

Working in teams, the Asheville School students designed and and built prototypes of appropriate Assistive Technology solutions for exceptional students enrolled at Hall Fletcher Elementary School (HFE) located in Asheville, NC. The design solutions were intended to help students interact with computer programs (games) in new ways. We worked closely with Kelly Blount and Amy Floyd, the HFE teaching team, throughout the project. This project is endorsed by Dr. Gordon Grant, the principal at HFE.


Jason Webb developed a “DIY Assistive Technology project” outlined in detail HERE. Inspiration for this project came from Jason's work.

Lucas Steuber is a colleague of Jason Webb's, and like Jason, is also blazing a trail with DIY Assistive Technology. Lucas runs the Portland Language Lab and was very helpful throughout this project. 

The Assistive Technology prototypes we created utilized a versatile computer interface design platform called a Makey Makey which was developed at the MIT Media Lab. The Makey Makey is a $50 invention kit for the 21st century. It turns everyday objects into touchpads allowing for quick prototyping of creative Assistive Technology solutions. 

I was inspired by Purdue University's "EPICS" High School program (Engineering Projects in Community Service) which teaches human centered design and engineering by getting students out into the community to solve real problems for real people.

During this short course I introduced the students to Stanford University's Design School process which is outlined in this 44 page PDF.


April 1-30 -- I call a list of agencies who can help me connect with a group of students with physical disabilities. These agencies include: FIRST Community Resource Center, Asheville City Schools Foundation, Buncombe County School's Progressive Education Program (PEP), Asheville City Schools Exceptional Children's Program, Care Partners, Buncombe County Schools "Special Services", Mission Children's Hospital, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, North Carolina Assistive Technology Program, Disability PartnersCarolina Pediatric Therapy, and others. I worked with Charlie Glazener, the media contact for the Asheville City Schools system to secure permission to take photos and video of the elementary students and I worked with Charlie to get the media to the May 15 event (ABC TV and local paper).

May 1, 2014 -- Class # 1 (90 min.) Asheville School students board a bus and travel to HFE to meet with the teachers and students. The goal for this trip was to build rapport and empathy (step #1 of the Stanford D-School process). 

May 2 -- Class # 2 (45 min.) Asheville School students are introduced to the Makey Makey.

May 8 -- Class # 3 (90 min.) Asheville School students select the game they intend to play and begin building prototype. 

May 12 -- Class # 4 (45 min.) Asheville School students refine designs and test each other's designs. Prepare for Class #5 (return to HFE). 

May 15 -- Class #5 (90 min.) Asheville School students travel to HFE by bus and meet with the students to test their prototypes (see video above). 

May 19 -- Class #6 (45 min.) Asheville School students debrief the experience. 


Jason Webb's "Instructable" on DIY Assistive Technology HERE

Another resource from Jason HERE

Overview of the MaKey MaKey for educators of students with diverse needs HERE

Lucas Steuber's Assistive Technology website HERE

DIY Ability website HERE

MaKey MaKey website HERE

MaKey MaKey Forums HERE

MaKey MaKey for Computer Access workshop (video) HERE  -- NOTE: A guest on this show is one of the developers of the Makey Makey!

Dr. Amy Hurst at the University of Maryland Baltimore is doing amazing work around DIY Assistive Technology.

Switch Accessible Games

Car (driving) games HERE

Hall Fletcher Elementary Games HERE

Learn how to download flash games HERE

RESEARCH: Evaluating Accessibility in Fabrication Tools for Children (click link below)

Download RESEARCH Evaluating Accessibility in Fabrication Tools for Children

DIY Pressure Plate Switches HERE 


The following is a list of computer games we were prepared to play with the HFE students. 

Hopper Beetle  Download Hopper_Beetle

Ultimate Baseball  Download Ultimate_baseball

Dance Revolution  Download Dance_revolution

Dance of the Robots  Download Dance_of_the_Robots

Fruit Basket  Fruit Basket Game

Piano for Makey Makey  Piano

Bongos  Bongos

Trebuchet Launch  Download Castle-clout

Photo Gallery

 View the photo gallery of this project HERE.



WLOS, the local ABC affiliate, sent a reporter and film team out to the event. The video report will soon be posted here.

Print Media

The Asheville School posted a great story with photos on their website HERE.


A brief mention of this project appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times. Click on the image below to enlarge.


WLOS TV, the local ABC news affiliate, did a story on this project.


Longer video showing students using the Assistive Technology devices:


more soon...

Extreme By Design

Extreme By Design is the story of three Stanford University Design School students who take a course on designing very low-cost products that meet basic needs of the world's poorest people.

During the 6-month course, they travel to Bangladesh and Indonesia and race to design life-saving breathing devices, IV medicine infusion pumps, and fresh water storage systems. 



PBSLearningMedia (a curriculum portal for teachers) created a series of interactive videos designed to help students learn how to think and act like innovators. It is designed for 4th through 12th grade students, to be completed after watching the Extreme By Design documentary. 

Learning Episode 1 ("Being an Innovator") introduces students to the design thinking approach. Scenes from the documentary are used to illustrate concepts, and a protagonist acts as a guide, providing instruction and explanations to the students.





Asheville Makers Learn To Solder Workshop at the West Asheville Library

On March 20, 2014 Asheville Makers led a "Learn To Solder" event at the West Asheville Library.

It was the first free and open to the public learn how to solder event ever held in Asheville and it was a huge success.

We had students age 8 to 80 learning how to solder a blinking "robot badge"  found at the Maker Shed

Because of generous donations from area businesses, this event was free! Big thank you goes out to Efficiency Lab and On Haywood.

Thank you to all of our great soldering teachers. Without you this would not have been the great event it was. 

Avi Silverman and Tom Heck of Asheville Makers recently met with representatives of the Asheville City - Buncombe County Library System who are very excited about the Maker Movement. We'll be partnering to lead more free and open to the public events!











Hovercraft Workshop at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering

On March 12,  2014 I visited  A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering in Greenville, SC and led three 90 minute hovercraft workshops (one for each of the three 5th grade classes).

Read an article about this amazing school in The Atlantic  CLICK HERE


Here's the 2 minute highlight video: 

The workshop starts with a discussion comparing Engineering and Science. We then discuss the Engineering Design Process and compare it to the Scientific Method. Then we discuss friction and determine if it is good or bad. This leads to a discussion about hovercrafts, friction, and "lift". Then we start building mini hovercrafts out of old CDs and balloons. 




We then discuss the difference between "lift" and "thrust" -- both are critical for hovercraft locomotion. Students experiment with a balloon as it provides thrust.


With an understanding of lift and thrust it's time to ride the big hovercraft powered by a leaf blower.




At the end of the day I led a 60 minute workshop for the teaching staff on "How To Teach Leadership in the Engineering Classroom". This is a fun, experiential workshop that got the teachers talking about leadership and teamwork in their classroom. I led activities found in the IATF Team Building Games Archive found inside the IATF Members Only Area



Big thanks to Mr. Hamilton Parks of A.J. Whittenberg School of Engineering who made this day possible. 


Links for STEM and Makerspace Educators


Engineering is Elementary


The Engineering Place


International Technology & Engineering Educators Association


SAGE Design Challenges


Engineering go for it!


INcreasing Student Participation, Interest and Recruitment in Engineering and Science


Exploratorium Snacks


Math and science activities


Mathematics Modeling

ROCKETS made from paper!


Rockets made from paper and powered by compressed air are one of my favorite projects to lead with kids. 

A quick google search will point you to several launcher designs and I've included the design I most like below. Click on the link below to download the PDF.

Download Rocket_launcher_plans

Although the above plans do work, I've made some improvements to the pressurization valve and the air release system. 

Click on the photo below to view larger version of the pressurization valve (different than what is shown in the plans above).






I've replaced the 3/4 inch "ball valve" (item # 13 in the plans) with a battery operated sprinkler valve I purchased through amazon. You can find this valve at amazon by searching for:

Orbit 57100 3/4-Inch Female Pipe Threaded Auto Inline Sprinkler Valve







The above valve easily replaces the 3/4 ball valve described in the plans. The sprinkler valve works well with a simple 9 volt battery. I purchased the black plastic box that holds the battery at Radio Shack. The "launch activator" was made from PVC pipe I had laying around and the red button that completes the circuit (battery, sprinkler valve, launch activator) was purchased at Radio Shack. The battery box hinge is a piece of black duct tape. I keep the lid closed with velcro. The box is attached to the PVC pipe with a hose clamp.

The sprinkler valve is superior to the ball valve because it releases air quicker allowing you to launch rockets higher with lower air pressure. A well made paper rocket will launch hundreds of feet in the air with only 45 pounds of pressure when using the sprinkler valve. To get that same kind of elevation with the ball valve you would need a much higher pressure (90 psi). 























Below I've attached a one page PDF "template" that, if printed on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper or card stock, allows you to make a rocket. See the video below at the bottom of this post to learn how to make a rocket from the PDF template.

Download Maker_rocket_template_022314

If this type of thing interests you than please check out MAKE Magazine and attend a Maker Faire. I'm a member of the Asheville Maker Community














Watch the video below to learn how to make a rocket using the template found above. 

Introduction to STEM Education -- Workshop Resources

During the 2013 Project Connect Conference held at the Asheville School in Asheville, NC I presented a workshop entitled "Introduction to STEM Education. This post acts as a resource pages for this workshop. 

My workshop co-facilitator was Ed Maggart who is the new Head of School at The College School in St. Louis. Ed is a long time friend and has been teaching Science and Mountaineering for 30+ years.

1. Engineering Design Challenge -- Participants in this workshop learned about the T and the E of STEM education through an "engineering design challenge" I created called "Time Aloft". Click on the link below to download a description of the challenge.

Download Time_aloft_engineering_design_challenge

2. Soda Bottle Launcher -- The challenge required participants to launch a tennis ball using an AquaPod.  CLICK HERE to learn more about the AquaPod soda bottle launcher.

3. Flow Chart -- Ed and I developed a workshop flow chart to help manage our time.

Download Workshop Flow Chart

4. Posters -- I created posters for this workshop and hung them around the room. I referred to the posters during the workshop. Click on the links below to download copies of these documents.

  Download Branches_of_engineering

Download Engineering_defined

Download Engineering_design_process

Download Math defined

Download Next gen science quote

Download Science defined

Download Scientist_vs_engineer

Download Technology defined

5. Curriculum -- During this workshop I mentioned the STEM curriculum known as Engineering By Design which was developed by the ITEEA (see below). I strongly believe this curriculum is perfect for those working in independent schools.

4. Video Message from ITEEA President & CEO -- Towards the end of the workshop participants viewed a video message from Steve Barbato who is the President & CEO of the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association located in Washington, DC. I met with Steve prior to this workshop and shared details about the conference and details about this particular workshop. Steve developed a custome message for workshop attendees. The video is embeded below. Click on the link directly below to download a PDF copy of Steve's message.

  Download ITEEA_SKYPE_Presentation_for Project_Connect_NC_Final_with_Edits

STEM and the "Next Generation Science Standards" (NGSS)

"The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a commitment to integrate engineering design into the structure of science education by raising engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry when teaching science disciplines at all levels, from kindergarten to grade 12."

STEM education in the media

PBS TV reports on a school in Maine where teachers have swapped traditional curriculum for an unusually comprehensive science curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving, with a little help from some robots. This is one of the best examples I've seen of "integrative STEM education" in the media.


We Are All Makers -- TED talk 


Fab Labs in the Schools -- 12 minute talk by Paulo Bilkstein


Chris Rogers -- Teaching STEM with a Camera and a Brick or Two


STEM Labs -- What do they look like?


What does a STEM lab look like?

Alternate names for a STEM lab are "Fab Lab" (short for Fabrication Laboratory), "Maker Space", "Hacker Space".


Fab Lab -- High School Fabrication Laboratory in California. Click on an image to enlarge. CLICK HERE to read the article.

Lab_1 Lab_2 Lab_3 Lab_5 Lab_6



Maker Space