Saturday, April 25, 2015

Day 91 - The Journey to Understanding Ohms, Voltage, and Amps

Before I started MAKING with electronics I never gave batteries much thought, except for  Christmas day when we would often be frantically looking for batteries for the presents where "batteries were not included."    But lately I've had lots more reasons to think about power sources as I create and make.  As I started to wonder about how to provide power to my projects, I started to wonder about volts and amps and wanted to get a better understanding of "why"  certain power solutions would work better than others.

As an educator I'm acutely aware of the role that motivation and frame of reference play on creating the optimal learning environment.  My maker projects provided the motivation.  However I still lacked some of the frame of reference needed to understand the explanations I was reading about ohms law.  But with each project I made,  I started to gain  experience that allowed me to build more data points slowly creating a frame of reference.    Watching the sparks fly when two dangling pieces of conductive threads became entangled made me wonder:

  "What was different about my power source this time that caused such a reaction?"
   "Why had there been no sparks flying on previous projects where threads had accidentally touched?"  
      "Might some of my projects create fire hazards?"

As the data points and list of questions grew, so did my ability to predict what might happens when I combined circuits, batteries, and conductive materials.  And with each iterations of predicting, designing, and testing solutions for my projects,   my frame of reference started to grow, my experience gap started to narrow.   I felt ready to tackle readings that would deepen my  understanding of the science behind the flow of electricity so that the information about volts and amps on the materials I was using to make would finally be useful in designing solutions to my projects.

But even though the vocabulary was more familiar as I read through various explanations of volts, amps, and ohms law,  I struggled with creating a mental model that felt complete.   Yet, despite the fact that  there were still some foggy parts for me,  it seemed that some of what I was reading as I was making was finally accessible and the fog was lifting.   I was no longer dismissing the information I read as gobbly geek;  I had deeper motivation for bridging the knowledge gaps  and had new experiences to connect pieces of the explanations to.   Maker  empowerment was setting in and added a degree of  confidence that I could grasp these new concepts as in produced in me an inclination to want to understand the interconnections of the systems that made up my world.  I also had  an important additional ingredient--the patience of a partner who was willing to listen as I described new renditions of my mental model and gently point out misconceptions with yet another explanation of the parts that were still foggy.  Meanwhile I kept playing/making and reading.   And finally,  more than a year into my playing with circuits, I feel like the fog has lifted about around my  understanding about volts, amps, circuits, and ohms law.    Last night I reread the Sparkfun explanation of voltage and amps and the water metaphor finally worked to complete the mental model that had been slowly building over the past year.

As an educator who is fascinated by the process of learning,  I'm intrigued by the variables that interconnected in my learning journey.  I know that no two learners will go through the same journey,  but I feel my reflecting and understanding my journey will help me better understand the various places in the journey that those 'making' around me might be at.  It will also help me design experiences that might help others on their journey of understanding the interconnected systems of the world around them, especially those who might have had similar experience gaps.

There have been plenty of times when I've said to myself  "who are you kidding - you don't belong here in this world where most of those around me seem to have a stronger background and understanding of science." Girls Make It Series of workshops has been shaped by that experience and the reactions from both participants and observers has validated  my feeling the designs for my workshop do connect with learners like me -  and that I my value might be in bringing diversity to the maker culture, but to also bring deeper understanding of technology, science, and making to a diverse set of learners.  But today, I feel that the lack of such a background has provided me with a different type of insights and that maybe that insight can be valuable in the maker culture.  Much of the design of my

Growing up in a household of 5 girls in the 60's meant that there were not a lot of toys that helped me experience electronics and mechanics.   I don't remember much about science class in our 4 room school house in rural Vermont.  Our elementary teachers were generalist and I imagine that my lack of vivid memories about science class is indicative of the quantity and quality of science education we experienced.

I have some faded memories of earth science and biology in high school, but nothing that excited me to learn more.  I do have a vivid memory of my guidance counselor telling me that I would never get into college after I insisted in signing up for  sewing class  over chemistry class (scheduled at the same time).  That year I learned that I wasn't very good at sewing, and signed up for chemistry my senior year -- which of course meant I never got the opportunity to experience physics.    Somehow I decided that science was not for me and managed to make it through four years of college avoiding any science classes by filling my distribution requirements with math classes.

What is gender?  Was it environment?  Was it environment due to gender and culture that contributed to my experience gaps in all things science.   Whatever it was,  I NOW get to experience bridging the gap and totally fascinated by that process.  How can my introspection about my process contribute to designing experiences that will impact those who don't 'naturally'  engage with creating and making? How can creating those experiences contribute to helping non-traditional 'makers'  deepens their understanding of the interconnected systems that make up their world?

There could have been no better time in my career for me to have discovered the series of book in the Interconnections:  Understanding Systems through Digital Design".  And to think I almost walked right by the National Writing Project table at the SxSw Edu Conference this year.   Framed in a pedagogical beliefs that align with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards,  these books offer educators a field guide to integrating making into their curriculums.  The authors have designed a resource  for both in school and out of school educators that can guide them as they build their own confidence and skills to introduce making into their curriculum.

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