Page 23 - THE Journal, March/April 2019
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on curriculum developed in the Lab and go out to do “unplugged low-tech STEM activities to get kids familiar with project- based learning and the design engineering cycle so they can be problem solvers and apply those skills they’re learning in the classroom through hands-on projects.” The students also get opportunities to come to the Fab Lab for digital fabrication lessons.
Then there’s the Youth Series, a 12-week program with workshops in the Lab to teach middle and high schoolers how to use tools, follow the design process and
get certified to work with the equipment independently. Students who complete that curriculum can go onto to become “Fab Lab ambassadors,” who participate in additional training, group activities, and self-directed projects; they also volunteer and help out with community projects.
And there are the spring break and summer camps. This summer, for example, the nearby Lone Star College-North Harris Campus, which has its own makerspace, will be bringing summer camp students to the Fab Lab to help them build 3D printers that the kids will then be able to take home.
The University of Houston, which holds middle school “innovators” camps in the summer, will use the mobile Fab Lab to help its campers learn engineering design process and how to create inventions.
The Fab Lab also offers on-site half-day professional development workshops for teachers to help them learn how to do STEM activities in their own classrooms,
which include “take-home kits” that allow them to practice and apply what they’ve picked up immediately. As part of that PD, according to Richardson, teachers learn how to use resources their schools might already have — such as 3D printers — and integrate units on those into their lessons and pick up “different classroom management strategies around those projects.”
Finally, faculty from U Houston’s College of Education bring pre-service teachers into the Lab to practice what they’re learning
in their courses “through hands-on versus traditional worksheets and paper and pencil,” said Richardson. “The new teachers coming out of college are the ones that
are going to have the greatest impact on continuing to advance education.”
Outreach is the name of the game, he added. “If we could impact one teacher that teaches 100 students a year, then that’s pretty significant.” The goal: to introduce the maker culture and STEM topics to a much larger population of students through the Fab Lab than what its own staff of five can facilitate on its own.
The Sensor Project
None of that educational outreach came into play for what has become known as the Lake Houston Data Visualization Project — at least not at first.
“We’re always talking to people — including students — about projects that relate to their lives,” Richardson explained.
Hurricane Harvey has proven to be a big inspiration in that regard. For example, one individual using the Fab Lab is building “space-saving furniture because he has multiple family members living in his house due to the flood.”
And all Richardson wanted was to create a better way for his in-laws to track the level of the water in their part of the lake. He’d always assumed that the water level would be the same across the entire lake and that the three sensors already tracking that data were sufficient for everybody living along the water’s edge. Not so, apparently. Where the San Jacinto River feeds into the lake, as an example, sand piles up, especially during major storms. “Areas that used to be four feet or 12 feet deep might actually be just
a couple of inches deep now because of
the sand deposits from the hurricane,” he said. Those homes above the sand deposits will have water rise faster and with greater variance than the ones without.
Richardson’s idea was to install a sensor in his in-laws’ backyard that, “through a
bit of math,” could calculate the amount
of time it took to send an ultrasonic wave to hit the water and bounce back. As the water rises, that time gets shorter, which can be used to calculate the distance, he said. The resulting data is uploaded to a server for viewing online via WiFi. Because it uses ultrasonic, the sensor works day
or night. “There’s a graph online that my in-laws could look at to see that change. So, if they’re out of town and a storm is coming
MARCH/APRIL 2019 | 23
Photos courtesy of Chevron

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