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Entries by Jeff Finkel

Initial Interaction

Our studio 5 class journeyed to Arc Charter School to interact with 5th and 6th grade children in order to get a better perspective of where they come from and are all about.  Our group was able to work with the 5th grade students in groups of 5 or 6 students.  In order to connect to the children, we wanted to make them feel comfortable with us and figured that would make it easier for them to talk to us.  From our readings, we felt their personal collages were a great way for you to do more than talk about your life, it showed the children.

In preparation for the visit, each of our group members’ design a picture board around some of the activities, places, and people that we felt very strongly about.  Using a combination of magazine clippings, stickers, and markers we felt we all had pretty neat boards that they kids would want to ask questions about.   We provided blank boards, markers, and magazines for the children so that they could express something about themselves to us.  The guidelines were simple, make a board using whatever you see here.  Although we hinted at the objective of gaining a deeper meaning through these boards when we presented our own, we wanted to leave it very open-ended.

Our first group consisted of what I would classify as 6 African American boys & girls as well as one Caucasian boy.    The group sat quietly while we presented our boards to them but were eager to dig into the magazines.  While the children were building their boards, we tried to facilitate very high level conversation and if they felt comfortable more in-depth conversation.  It was evident from the beginning that some students were more shy than others.  Also, students that seemed to distance themselves slightly from the group were more willing to have conversations whereas the most social students interjected into conversations from time to time but did not share much information about themselves.  One of the first conversations was sparked from asking the children what they did this summer.  Many of them wanted to share their experiences at Camp Chingachgook in Lake George.  The student spent the night at camp and did activities during the day.   I couldn’t believe it, the first topic was something that I really felt as though I could relate to the children since I had visited this camp before.   The way the children spoke about the trip led me to believe that this outdoors experience was very different from their daily lives.  One boy talked about the giant field that they played games in and how he wished it was next to his house so that he wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the park.  The conversation began to spiral for most of the group after that but it expressed the environmental differences between their home lives and camp Chingachgook.  When I asked one girl what her favorite part of camp was she replied that she didn’t go.  Before I could say anymore, she elaborated on the fact that she could not go because of the “bugs in her hair” which for most of us is somewhat concerning/embarrassing, at least in the culture that I grew up with.  Our conversation could have been overheard by any number of children but it didn’t spark anything.  Although it is a very speculative conclusion, it eluded me to the fact that hygiene/health may differ from other culture but was certainly not a topic that I wanted to push the envelope on.  This girl began to open up and talk about what she does after school.  She made several references to her older brother but that she had other siblings.  He grandparents confused her with one of her siblings which I guess means that they are either not around much or older in age.  Sometimes she goes to work with her mom at city hall.  She compared camp to when her mom is not around and she visits her aunt in NJ.  Her aunt was someone that she saw frequently and had a positive view of.

The boys jumped straight for the sports magazines.  One boy even asked “do you guys have more sports”.  With most of the students playing basketball or football, some of the players in the magazines were people that they idolized for their professional sports careers.  A couple of the boys had favorite players and team loyalty.  One boys talked about Jacobs, a player from the NY Giants and that he likes him because he “goes hard all the time”.  As a group we noticed that these influences ran into other parts of their lives like their fashion.  Since the shirts and pants were a standard at the school, kids differed in their footwear.  My general observations are that basketball shoes are the most common sports shoes that people take after.  More than one of the students wore a pair of Jordans.  Due to the price of these shoes, it gave an idea of the socio-economic status on a very high level.  It interesting to see that the children knew who about the sneakers and who Michael Jordan was.  My guess is that this was something that their parents or siblings passed down to them.

The second group was what I guess to be 7 African American children.  Two of the girls picked up the Seventeen magazine which they found a lot of music figures in.  A few of the girls mentioned that they like to sing along to the songs on the radio and were able to spark the rest of the groups minds.  The boy began jabbering in with their favorite artists “Wiz, Snoop…”.  Although I understood who they were talking about, they assumed that we listen to the same music or knew the same artists.  My guess is that their environment is majority this type of music.  I tested this by trying to talk about different areas of music but it was evident that they were not that interested.   Every kid in that group agreed that they did not like Justin Beiber, at least in the group setting.  As we started to talk about more rap/hip-hop/R&B artists, their language seemed to change a bit.  A couple times the children let some profanity slip and the amount of slang in the conversation increased.  Finally, two student shared stories about visiting their dad which leads me to believe that they do not live with them.  Since it may be a sensitive subject we didn’t push when they stopped sharing information.

The Final group had two student that really stuck on in my mind.  One student was a larger gentleman that stole my seat when I got up to grab a pen.  When I walked back over her exclaimed “this seats for my foot” and then stayed at me.  I started to ask him if he would move his foot and realized that if he was sitting on the floor than so should I.  Our objective was for them to feel comfortable with us and invite us in so being equal was important.  We talked about sports briefly and he found a snake that he really wanted to draw on his board.  Since he claimed to not know how to draw he asked me to draw it for him.  We figured out the snake that he wanted and as I was drawing I explained what I was doing.  After, I tried to get him to draw the snake but he refused.  After the fact, I get the impression that he may have just wanted to make me draw it.  The gentle approach with this child seems to have failed and I wasn’t able to gain much information from him.  I then directed my attention to another student that had separated himself from the group, the young Caucasian boy.  The activity was nearly over and the boy hadn’t even touched the board.  He had been trying to read everything he could during the time.  From this we talked about some articles that referenced history and business in American.  The boy mention that he wanted to work in “geography or history” even though he didn’t know what jobs even aligned to that but just that he liked the subjects.  Through the conversation I was able to extract that his father was going to college.  It was interesting to see how this transitioned into the boy’s life.  Unfortunately we ran out of time before we discuss too much more.

Many of the children identified themselves by their names.  One girl made it known that her last was French.  Although she didn’t elaborate anymore, she was proud of her name and its heritage.  She connected it with her mother but it might have been interesting to talk about some of the cultures in France.  Observation allowed me to hear different nicknames that children went by.  Jarrett hung around with the children during recess and acquired the nickname “shaggy” because of his long hair.

The boards were very creative but most shared one similar aspect, symmetry.  I was really funny to look around the room and 4 out of 5 children were mirroring the images to create symmetry.  Their process was to put one thing on the left and one on the right, a sense of balancing both vertically and horizontally.  At the end of each group, the teacher rang a bell which signified that they were going to give instruction and everyone should be paying attention.  He caught on and raised our hands and eyes when we heard the bell.  It was clear that when they rang the bell the teacher/student teacher was an authoritative figure whereas when we were working in groups they joked around with them and seems to be friendly with them.

Second Trip Response

Our second visit to the Arc Charter was to test our response device that we build for the children.  Our initial goal was to create a device that had only a few variables that provided obvious feedback.  First iterations were similar to the game battleship but where the kids were shooting objects over a wall.  From this we looked at racing cars under a wall; off a jump; and into/onto a target.  By angling the ramp or changing the starting height, we intended for the kids to be able to control the outcome in relation to power.  We selected a variety of cars which included a convertible, sports car, SUV, and punch buggy.  We also brought a racquetball.

Our hypothesis was that kids would adjust the ramp so that they could land the cars on our targets(the road and the boat).

As the first group saw the ramp, they had similar thoughts when I first saw the ramp to launch the cars of into the distance.  Boy 1 asked if we could shoot the cars out the window.  As we anticipated, the children all had preferences in cars, some were very different than what we had guessed.  One boy picked the punch buggy that we original thought would be for a girl.  Later in the response we heard him shout “punch buggy” and wale another student in the arm.  Obviously this was a negative and unintended consequence of the experiment.   Another boy selected a race car with graphics since he saw what he thought was a car from the Fast and The furious movie series “Tokyo drift”.  The children called dibs on the start while others played rock, paper, scissors for the remaining spots.  Then they started to drop the cars down the track one by one and whoever was at the start got to drop their car.  It was interesting that order only mattered during the initial drop then the children were fine with any order.  With a competitive nature, they started to race multiple cars at one time.  The cars crashed together most time and the kids sort of evolved the competition into not who was first but who went the furthest.  They started tilting the ramp up and down in order to make their car fly the furthest.  Even without rules the kids didn’t force the cars down the ramp, but drop them as we showed them and explained how important aligning the car was.  Throughout the process, we talked to the children about how the different ramp angles effected the flight of the cars as well as the height from which they dropped it.

Our second group had a slightly different initial reaction.  One girl’s first thought was “can I go down the slide?”  We decided to try a new approach with this group and pulled out the Styrofoam cars that we had brought for them to color and decorate themselves.  The group jumped right on this.  While they were coloring, Jarrett and I began launching some of the HotWheels down the track and they soon joined in, some with their own cars and others with the HotWheels cars.  After launching cars for a few minutes the children want to make it more exciting.  They began making human bridges over the tracks and obstacle as the cars flew through the air.  Soon, the kids were throwing the cars and anything else they could get their hands on down the track.  The group clearly had a lot of energy and we were not being authoritative as we wanted to see where the group went with our response device.   Their attention was distracted more often than not asking questions such as “why is the AC on if we have the windows open” which spiraled into a discussion.  Even though the group was so rambunctious,  they banded together to try and shoot the cars as far as they could.  By adjusting the launch ramp and the start point, they were able to launch cars all the way to the lockers.  This much significantly farther than the previous group.  Although they were going for distance, it was not pure distance, but the furthest away that they could hit the boat.

The third group had a good mix of boys and girls in it.  As the students were picking their cars, I asked one girl why she picked the truck.  Girl 1’s response was that it was “red, shiny, fast, and sparkly”.  Thinking to myself, how does a truck look fast?  I always think of a truck as a powerful vehicle that was tough and muddy. In some instance, she must have gotten the impression that trucks could also be fast. As the students began launching the cars, Girl 2 asked why the angle of the ramp was so high.  When I tried to speak with her, it was unclear whether she understood why her question was great or that it just appeared off from what we would see and normal.  The kids continued to drop the cars and resorted to moving the boat around to catch the cars instead of the ramp that most students resorted to.  The good kids managed to come out with a “you suck at furthest distance” while we were shooting the cars.  Maybe they felt intimidated that we may be able to launch the cars further or maybe they just lashed out.  Boy 1 saw a previous groups car a decided that he wanted to make his own.  It seemed as though the ramp was being occupied so this gave him something else to do.  Girl 3 became infactuated with  launching the cars as far as she could.  The rest of the group seemed to take her lead as she adjusted the ramp.  She did not launch the cars, but merely adjusted the ramp.  I thought it was really interesting that she could separate herself from the cars and focus entirely on the angle of the ramp.  She was able to isolate the variable which I personally rate as a more matured level of thought.

The final group was a majority male.  This group brought their sand art over and immediately launched them down the track.  Our group attempted to switch out the sand art for cars but it only worked for a few of the students.  The first cars went whipping down the ramp crashing into the sides since they had not lined the cars up at all in their haste.   Once we were able to get them to drop the cars and briefly exampled the concept of our game they started releasing the cars on the ramp.  Only a few minutes went by until the turned the adjustable angle of the start ramp into a catapult for the cars.  Since our group steered away from one of our initial designs(catapult) in fear of kids launching cars, we did not expect this at all. We could have played around with this catapult idea if there wasn’t a fear of them destroying our ramp.  The kids then began rolling the connects wheels down the ramp.  Surprisingly, they went straight down the ramp and even hit the targets quite a few times.  The kids did not adjust the ramp much but moved the targets around to get the right distance.  Since the kids were throwing anything and everything down the ramp, it might be a good idea to have more variety in vehicles  & involvement in building them.  Also, being able to adjust the vehicles with weights may be easier than adjusting the entire ramp.  As a kid I remember that the firetruck went much faster on the track because it was so much heavier than the race car.

Third Trip Response

On Monday, we took our third trip to the Arc Chapter School in Troy to test our improved response device.  Our response device was a Hot Wheels track with two photo-sensors.  The objective of our device is to teach basic physics information such as velocity, acceleration, and friction among other topics.  Our device consisted of a 10ft Hot Wheels track; two photo-sensors located 8ft apart; various Hot Wheels cars; a starting block; our arduino board; and one laptop.  Our initial response device allow the students to adjust the ramp to launch the cars onto targets at various distances.  With this, we realized that there were too many variables to accomplish our objective of teaching basic physics.  Although the children could change the trajectory, the scope was very limited.  By using the Hot Wheels track, we eliminated some of the variables and errors with the design.  This new design had two photo-sensors located 8 feet apart.  Each photo-sensor outputs a reading based on the amount of light that passes into the sensor.  When a car travels over the sensor, the light is decreased.  When this variable changed by a significant amount, it triggered a stopwatch which stopped as the car passes over the second light sensor.  Finally, processing outputs a time in thousands of millli-seconds based on how long it took the car to travel over both sensors.

When the children first arrived to our group we asked them general question pertaining to speed which most were able to relate to in their everyday lives through cars.  From this we asked them simple question such as “if a car travels 50 miles in 1 hour, how fast are the traveling.”           Our intent was to preface our project and get them thinking of the real world applications of our project so that they could relate.  Next, we had the children measure the track and the distance between the two photo-sensors.  As the kids launched cars down the track they received a race time.  From this information, there are vast possibilities for calculating other information.  We explained that through simple mathematics, they could derive the speed of their cars.  Children would be able to calculate velocity while practicing multiplication, division, and cross multiplication.  These figures could also resemble the fractions that the children are working with in class.

Our first group of kids were a very interesting group.  They were rambunctious and excited for Halloween.  The talked about their masks and about stealing candy from little kids… so we redirected our conversations.  We began talking about traveling and time to bring out the basic concepts of speed.  Once again, they started relating with hotwiring and other absurd stories like that.  Although these conversations were inappropriate it showed that they were getting comfortable with us which was really excited.  They even remembered our names from the last trip.  We explained how the track works and let them release some cars down the track.  We recorded their times and they tried different starting methods and cars in an effort to cuts their times down.  Our second group was only 2 males so we thought it was a great opportunity to talk to them.  We asked them about the relationship between speed and acceleration which they really didnt have much knowledge about.  From that we asked them to do simple caluclation(50miles in an hour how fast are you going or say your riding your bike and you go 5 miles in a half hour, how fast are you traveling).  The calculations were easy enough for the children to do while the material was relatable.  With only two student, the kids tested the different cars against each other and their own average times to find the fastest.  Although we guided it slightly, it was apparent that they wanted to test which ones were the fastest.  We asked them what factors would change their times and their obvious response was “how fast your going”.  From this I eluded to some of the other variables like friction.  The example I used was “what is easier to get from one end of a parking lot to the other a wagon with wheels or a sled on skis.”  They picked up on the concept but we ran out of time before we could elaborate any further.  They wanted to test how a hill in the middle would effect the cars time and speed.  Our last group was eager to answer some of our questions.  They associated speed with roller coasters and barfing so we knew we had quite a bit of work to do.  The children sent the cars down the track but kept having issues with blocking the light sensor and setting of false values.  This took up time for us to keep resetting the sensors and one girl became frustrated and didnt want to participate anymore.  This was able to identify and constraint to our project.  If the children were not careful, the results would be effected which in turn would take away from the project.  One male student claimed his car was the fastest because it was the lowest to the ground.  It was difficult to explain to him that this could be a very true statement.  Speaking between our group be determined that an over exaggerated example such as a car with a sail could exemplify resistance in a much clearer manner.  The children added a hump to the design which let them personalize the track which was a cool feature for the interaction aspect.  One of the car got stuck and they sent another down before the first car could be removed.  The second car collided with the first and sent it flying.  From this Anthony thought of the idea of energy transfer.  He tried to explain it through swinging metal balls how the energy is transferred and dicipated through the collision.  It was an unexpected outcome of the project but opened up some possibilities for our project and the learning outcomes.  As time was running out the children lifted the other end of the track to create a U that cars would travel back and forth.  They were really excited about the collisions which is a possibility for us to explain the transfer of energy.

As we observed the children and spoke with the teacher, we realized that there was something more that we could add to the project.  My thought process steered me towards adding a variable that they could adjust and get feedback through the data and their calculations.  By adding/removing weights to the car, children could see the results of mass on their race times.  From this, our conversations with yourself and the teacher led us towards the scientific method and vocabulary.  If we could incorporate this we would be teaching more than just math.  Children seemed to be more responsive to this type of active learning.  If they children could make a hypothesis; identify the constraints and variables; and analyze their feedback from the processing output they would benefit greatly from the process.  Still, they would get to send cars down a track which was appealing to them even a second time around.

Final Trip Response

Our group took Fast Track for its final lap at Arc Charter School on Monday December 5th.   Our previous trips uncovered the initial knowledge the children had with physical or formalized experiments and found that the students were alienated from the topics at first but when described in relative term such as biking or running they quickly caught on.  Incorporating reliability and fun into our design opened up the doors for inspiration.

Fast Tracks final iteration include a ten foot long Hot Wheels track with four photo resistors and displays showing timed runs along with a calculator for the students to input hypothesis and check their calculations.  To start the lesson off, we discussed vocabulary relative to the project and performed a hypothetical trial with simple numbers for the students to calculate.  From there, the project was guided so that student would take a run and then perform calculations.

The first group of children hard a really tough time concentrating in the beginning and reacted poorly to the vocabulary section of the lesson even groaning that the thought.  Students took turns taking runs and comparing times.  Although the worksheet did not work out, we discussed alternating heights and their effects on time.  The second group was much more responsive and followed through with the example problem ( Speed=distance/time or 10ft/sec=10ft/1sec).  After completing the worksheet, we had data on paper that should that not only could they calculate speed on their own, but also determine the relationship between height and speed with the data.  Seeing the children make these conclusion was exciting.  The group seemed to show a sense of comfort with the group and even remembered our names from the previous trip.  In order to calculate their data, we let the children use our cell phone which seemed to get them excited on their own.  It was interesting to see how much more exciting a cell phone calculator was than a regular calculate even though they perform the same functions.  The third group was fairly straightforward.  They completed their worksheet and competed to see whose time was the quickest.  Our last group rushed over to grab their favorite cars and get started which was a strength since the children recognized the project and were excited to get involved.  Students were able to connected the relationship between height and speed from their data.  In one case, a student time was exceptional low but he insisted on calculating his speed.  When his calculation appeared 100 times greater than any of the others he acknowledged that there was a problem.  This provided the perfect opportunity to talk about errors with bad data.

Fast Track successfully taught some basic physics concepts will capture the experiment using the scientific method.  Unfortunately, one of drawbacks after the experiment was that some of the children lost interest which became evident in their responses to keeping the worksheet.  One student flat out said, “you keep it, I have no use for it” which is disappointing to hear from a student that was just actively engaged in the experiment.  Incorporating more variety into the track such as the adjustable height would generate more response and active learning.


Name_______                                                                                                Date_________

Trial 1

              A ÷            .   =              .……..

Distance          Time              Speed                               Actual Speed:                       .


Trial 2

              A ÷            .   =              .……..

Distance          Time              Speed                               Actual Speed:                       .



Trial 3

              A ÷            .   =              .……..

Distance          Time              Speed                               Actual Speed:                       .



Hypothesis: An educated guess made using known information & the basis for further investigation

Trial: A single, individual test of the device with a unique outcome

Speed: Rate of movement down the track; determines how quickly a moving object will travel a certain distance

Time: The number of seconds or milliseconds it takes to perform one trial

Distance: The area between two points