Piedmont Makers

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S.T.E.A.M. Grants Application

Posted on Sep 22, 2016

Piedmont Makers are proud to announce S.T.E.A.M. Grants for curriculum, project-based learning initiatives, and professional development within Piedmont Unified School District. We see our initial offering of $5000 as the beginning and hope to raise more funds to promote S.T.E.A.M. education to its fullest extent. We invite and encourage teachers to apply for these grants in the hope of maximizing the opportunity for our students to learn-by-making.

With the application posted here, we are looking for original projects that demonstrate imaginative thinking. We are open to applications that include outside experts, additional tools and materials, and training for teachers at every level of the district.

Applications for the S.T.E.A.M. Grant are due October 17, 2016 at 9am. Applicants are required to notify their school principal of the grants they are submitting. Selected grants will be awarded before the end of October.

More opportunities for funding will be ongoing, this is just the beginning!

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October 2016 News

Posted on Oct 8, 2016

Gaming! Tech Social - Friday 10/14 6:30pm: Tech Social is back!  Join us for a Gaming Tech Social on Friday at 6:30 pm in the Ellen Driscoll Auditorium at Havens. Seppo Helava (designer) and Ei-Nyung Choi (engineer) from Wonderspark will speak about their current mobile game design projects.  We will have a server available for Minecraft players to use.  During the gaming time, there will be a talk on Minecraft Basics for parents in the Havens Library.  All of this, a pizza dinner, milk, and cookies for only $5!  Buy your tickets.

East Bay Mini Maker Faire - Sunday 10/23 10am-5pm: East Bay Mini Maker Faire is a family-friendly celebration featuring rockets and robots, digital fabrication, DIY science and technology, urban farming and sustainability, alternative energy, bicycles, unique hand-made crafts, music and local food, and educational workshops and installations.  if you have never been to a Maker Faire, this is a great entry.  Not as large as the “big” San Mateo Faire, and larger scale than our Piedmont School Maker Faire.  Get a 15% discount with PIEDMONT15 code here.

Next Generation Science Standards Board Workshop – Monday 10/109:30-12pm: It is an exciting time in the world of science education!  California has adopted new science standards that align with 21st century teaching and learning, referred to as NGSS: Next Generation Science Standards, andPiedmont teachers in grades K-12 are working on the transition to teaching these new standards.  This Monday, there will be a Board Workshop held in Ellen Driscoll Theater to provide a deeper dive into what is referred to NGSS and 3-dimensional science learning. Four of our secondary science teachers will lead the School Board members through a NGSS physical science lesson. After, we will discuss the key shifts in science instruction and the various models for middle school and high school science courses.  Parents welcome!

S.T.E.A.M. Grant Applications Due - Monday 10/17: Piedmont Makers is excited to award grants to support S.T.E.A.M. education for the 2016-2017 academic year to teachers in the Piedmont Unified School District. Applications are due on October 17 for grants to be awarded in October.  Teachers – please submit your grant application today!

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Piedmont Post – October 2016

Posted on Oct 5, 2016

by Larraine Seiden

Every presidential election we hear from candidates and pundits that this is “the most important election in history!”  This time it rings true and it filters down to the local level. Among the many voting decisions here in Piedmont is Measure H1, the bond which seeks funding primarily to modernize our high school and middle school.

If you follow this column and our other activities, it’s no surprise that the Piedmont Makers board strongly endorses Measure H1.

Our current secondary school facilities require us to throw good money at badly outdated mechanical infrastructure and they also inadvertently support outdated educational models. Classrooms that look familiar to we adults of a certain age actually grew out of the industrial era well over a century ago.

If you haven’t been in a classroom for a while, you’d be pretty surprised at how different it looks and feels. Desks usually appear as table groups to facilitate small group work and discussion. Students may be working at differentiated “centers” throughout the room with the teacher moving from group to group. While there are still teacher-led lectures and instruction, you would be just as likely to see students working at longer projects that they got to choose from a menu of options. The students may be the ones who are up front presenting to the class.

These de-centralized classroom methods, among others, have been increasingly in practice in Piedmont for several years. With new Common Core aligned curricula, a robust technology infrastructure, and variations of block scheduling at the K-8 level, teachers have many tools to support this kind of instructional growth.

Yet our high school, arguably our crown jewel, is housed in dated facilities from another time. In this era of cross-disciplinary fertilization in colleges and in the professional world, our academic departments are housed in separate buildings. Science and math are separate and they are across campus from technology and the arts classes. There are no small group work spaces; no modular furniture; and few presentation or display spaces.

Besides this rigid separation of subjects, the classrooms are very insular and don’t invite interaction from the school community beyond its walls.  In a recent New York Times article called The Innovation Campus: Building Better Ideas, author Alexandra Lange quotes Cornell Tech’s founding dean Dan Huttenlocher who said “Being in bigger interactive spaces encourages expansive thinking, while being in a box of a room encourages box thinking.”

The article goes on to discuss current thinking at several college campuses about building to support growing S.T.E.A.M. and other cross-disciplinary, project-based courses.  It describes the influence of the architectural philosophies of Bay Area tech companies such as Google and Facebook that are nearly office-less and also of Pixar, which features a mix of individual offices and many small and large group meeting spaces.

It’s a credit to Superintendent Randy Booker and Piedmont Unified’s administration that they held several opportunities for community input early in the facilities discussion last year. When they offered a conservative solution that only addressed mechanical upgrades and classroom sizes they heard back that given the big investment, the community wanted them to be more forward thinking.

We’re hopeful that Measure H1 will pass and then we can really drill down to what makes sense for Piedmont. Unlike colleges, tech companies, or private schools, we are not a self-selected population.  We should look to industry and surrounding schools, while keeping in mind our public school mission of serving all learners very well.

Community members need to participate and we need to keep teachers in the loop. Does anyone remember the “open classroom” of the late 1960’s? It featured no walls between “pods” of elementary classrooms. Some are still in use in San Francisco. I’m confident the designers (and administrators) never talked to an elementary teacher before they came up with that idea.

To make sure that eventual design proposals well serve the “users,” in this case students, teachers, and the community, Piedmont Maker Sally Aldridge has been participating in a couple of task forces. One, the Facilities Steering Committee, led by Superintendent Randy Booker, is facilities-focused and draws together experts from facilities, education and innovation industries. The Steering Committee supports Measure H1 and will continue to meet once the bill has passed and the design process begins.  For more information you can see:


The other, the 21st century learning in Piedmont group, led by Sally and Jason Meil, Piedmont Maker and Design Executive, is using a design-thinking process that is focused on students, educators, and parents. Stay tuned–there will be more details about that group’s work and findings in an upcoming column.

There’s so much great work going on in Piedmont schools. Help support our teachers and students as they adopt best 21st century learning practices—vote YES on Measure H1 and then attend community meetings to give your input on building proposals. If you’re still not sure why the secondary schools need modernizing, join Director of Facilities Pete Palmer for one last secondary facilities tour on October 18, 6-7:30pm.

Tech Social is back!  Join us for a Gaming Tech Social on Friday, October 14th at 6:30 pm in the Ellen Driscoll Auditorium at Havens. Seppo Helava and Ei-Nyung Choi from Wonderspark will speak about their current mobile game design projects.  We will have a server available for Minecraft players to use.  During the gaming time, there will be a talk on Minecraft Basics for parents in the Havens Library.  All of this, a pizza dinner, milk, and cookies for only $5!  As usual, bring whatever else you’d like to share!

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Piedmont Post – September 2016

Posted on Sep 7, 2016

by Jane Lin

It’s that scarecrow time-of-year again when classroom parents plead for volunteers to make a Harvest Festival Scarecrow by September 25th. It’s a great way for your elementary class to build together. And, it is also undeniably part of the scheduling madness that comes with the new school year. There’s a lot to organize: a theme, a building venue, the kids, materials, and plenty of snacks.

Piedmont Makers is kicking off this year’s Makerspace series with a Scarecrow Workshop on September 11 at Piedmont Middle School Room 125 from 1-3pm. Come jump start your creative juices before Harvest Festival weekend.

The scarecrow project is a classic Maker project. First and foremost, a scarecrow has to stand up and not fall over; it needs to have character; and it takes some understanding of tools and materials to make it. This fun project-based learning opportunity is the kind of STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) experience that Makers advocate for.

Scarecrows are a big project and the closer we get to the deadline, the more likely we run out of time and patience, and our fear of failure begins to take over. Remember the scarecrows of yesteryear? They have been spectacular, especially the ones that look like our favorite animated characters. They are displayed for months on porches around town. We know which ones are our favorite.

It’s a production, which has lead to a disturbing trend of ever increasing parent-built scarecrows. The expectation we set when we make an adult-built scarecrow is very high. It looks totally out of reach for a kid who has seldom used real tools such as a hammer, saw, exacto knife, spray paint, sewing machine, needle and thread, staple gun, pliers, drill, or table saw.

Luckily, the Piedmont Makers, are here to lend a hand. Don’t misunderstand us, just as parents should not build a kid’s project for them, we aren’t here to build your scarecrow for you. We’re here to support you working with your kids to get the most out of an engaging learning experience.

We invite group leaders to sign up for our Scarecrow Makerspace workshop where we will share tips for strategizing and designing scarecrows and try our hand at building basic scarecrow frames. There are a limited number of spaces so sign up now at http://www.piedmontmakers.org/makerspace. If you can’t make it, keep these three tips in mind for the next time you build something with your kids:

  • Make a kid-centered design. Let your kids decide from the very beginning what they want the scarecrow to be. They must be involved in this step if you want them to feel ownership of the project.
  • Re-use materials as much as you can. Go to Dress Best for Less, the East Bay Center for Creative Reuse, or raid your recycling bin. The class budget for scarecrows can go a very long way with re-purposed items.
  • Let them do it. Believe your kids can use hand and power tools. Show kids how to use a tool safely and then step back and try not to interfere. Try very hard not to say “Be Careful.” Do step in if you see true danger. Don’t cave in if they want you to do it for them. It’s their project not yours. And stick around, they will have more questions.
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September 2016 News

Posted on Sep 5, 2016

Scarecrow Makerspace - THIS Sunday 9/11 1-3pm: Get a jump start on your Harvest Festival Scarecrow!  We invite parent group leaders & student helpers to sign up for our workshop where we will share tips for strategizing and designing scarecrows and try our hand at building basic scarecrow frames. We will provide a limited number of materials, tools and hardware.  Bring materials you have on hand to use and share.

2016-2017 Calendar of Events: Our calendar for the upcoming year is now available as a Google Calendar.  Get ready for a full schedule of Tech Social and Makerspace events including Lasercutting, Pokemon Go! & more — including the K-12 School Maker Faire in April.

S.T.E.A.M. Grants Kickoff Reception - Thursday 9/15 3:30pm: PiedmontMakers are excited to award grants to support S.T.E.A.M. programming for the 2016-2017 academic year to teachers in the Piedmont Unified School District. Please come to the S.T.E.A.M. Grants Kickoff reception to find out more about the application process and discuss ideas.  Applications are due in October for grants to be awarded in November.  Teachers – please RSVP to  our VP Grants Jane Lin if you have not received the Paperless Post invitation already.

PiedmontStore.com Donations: For families who have donated to PiedmontMakers already to support S.T.E.A.M. education in Piedmont, we thank you.  Piedmont Makers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation so your donation is fully tax deductible.  For those who have not donated yet, we encourage you to visit PiedmontStore.com.  Any donation level is appreciated!

21st Century Learning Workshop - Piedmont Makers hosted a 21st Century Learning Workshop on Monday 8/22 with PUSD Administrators, Teachers, School Board members, & parents that was moderated by the San Francisco design agency Method.  We were thrilled to be part of this conversation and we were very encouraged to see so much innovation already happening across the district.

There were 3 main themes we heard;

  • The tension between curriculum and hands-on learning. How do we meet the standards while providing these learning opportunities ?
  • There are very real constraints in time, space and materials.
  • Taking risks can be uncomfortable when there is so much undefined.

Our next step is interviewing teachers individually to learn more about the challenges they face and the creative solutions they are developing around 21st Century Learning. We would like to highlight these educational success stories broadly across the district for the benefit of all.

Have a great September,
The Piedmont Makers Board

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Piedmont Post – May 2016

Posted on May 18, 2016

Design Thinking for Institutional Change
by Larraine Seiden

Over the past few years, there has been wave after wave of curriculum changes related to the Common Core. These changes represent an overdue shift from content emphasis to thinking processes, moving away from an Industrial Age education model toward so-called 21st century skills.

It makes sense that elementary teachers have borne the brunt of these changes, since they are responsible for teaching most of the core subjects. Among many goals they were charged with leading students to “go deeper” into subjects, even though the basic structure of the day hadn’t yet been adapted to support the new curricular goals.

Using design thinking to adapt the instructional day

In 2014, the tri-school elementary principals assembled a task force made of representative teachers, parents, and themselves to address this disparity. They made the remarkable decision to tackle the Instructional Program Design holistically, by using the design thinking process, which is also known as “human-centered design.”

Sally Aldridge, an entrepreneur and fellow PM board member, was an early parent representative for the group. Having participated in the design thinking process on more projects than she can count, she says that the technology and business sectors recognize the process as the most efficient and effective way to grow. Schools are just starting to use the process to effect change and there’s a lot of education needed by school leaders and their communities.

To their credit, the tri-school principals hired an expert consultant from CreatEdu to guide them through the early stages of the process.  By choosing this messier path, they rejected the tendency of most districts to hatch change at the highest levels of administration in a piecemeal way.  Often this leaves those most affected—the students and their teachers, almost as an afterthought.

In design thinking–speak, they are called “the end users” and this process actually also starts with them. In an early step called “empathy,” the design team tries to get inside the students’ experience to understand their needs.  The principals did exactly that when they followed and talked to students last year to get a feel for the flow of their days.

Then last fall, when the Instructional Design goals were being defined, they came directly out of this empathy step and were conceived to best support student learning in a 21st century context. Of course, there are significant constraints to consider, namely time and budget, but all future solutions had to directly support those defined goals.

Another valuable part of using design thinking, and it may be the most confusing to the uninitiated, is the use of prototypes and iterations.   When the principals presented their first prototype schedule last winter, the goal was to present their thinking at that point.

Like a concept sketch, they wanted feedback—from teachers and parent groups. They wanted to know, what’s working here and what do we need to work on more? Then, based on the responses, they refine and come up with the next iteration. Rather than trying to sell one idea over another, that feedback is what moves the process forward. This meant the principals had to be consistently open and responsive to all comments, even when it stung.

So how is design thinking really different?

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and Stanford’s D.School and self-described “design thinking evangelist” describes the process as adding to traditional analytical thinking, not replacing it. Now, need-finding comes before problem-solving in a process that is less linear, more intuitive, empathetic, and integrative. He thinks design thinking IS 21stcentury skills in a nutshell.

While the various iterations have been confusing at times and early information was maybe held too close, this imperfect process has given teachers and parent groups an unprecedented role in helping to craft the tri-school Instructional Program Design.  The result will truly be a team effort and it will continue to be somewhat iterative to respond to the needs of students and teachers in the future.

Fortunately, Sally is currently helping infuse some design thinking best practices into the district’s facilities master planning process. She explains that empathy interviews change minds so that goals don’t happen top-down like a “waterfall.”  She has learned that the best feedback comes from individual interviews, not big, public meetings. That way, the focus is on the content of the feedback and not selling a particular idea.

Now that you know how important thoughtful feedback is, please be sure to learn about and participate as the facilities master planning process evolves.

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Meet the Makers!

Posted on Apr 9, 2016

We are so excited to kickoff the 3rd annual Piedmont School Maker Faire on Saturday, April 23 11am-3pm at the Piedmont High School campus! Check out below some of the 75+ projects from Beach, Havens, Wildwood, Piedmont Middle School, and Piedmont High School students along with community makers. Tickets are FREE and available now!

What’s New This Year? Keynote from Pixar’s Tony DeRose, Talks from Cal Professors Alessandra Lanzara & Alex Filippenko, Student Film Festival, Student Bands, STEAM Expo projects, and more!

Hands-on Making!:

Community Art Project
Exploring Natural Dyes
Fixit Clinic – Bring your broken stuff to fix & learn
Learn to Solder!
Oakland East Bay Symphony – Instrument Petting Zoo
PAINTS Rube Goldberg Project
So Sew Station
Wind Tube & Flying Paper Rockets
Wreck-It Destruction Lab – Bring stuff to break & learn

Piedmont High School Makers:

Computer Science Class Projects
LED Wheel
“The Martian” demonstrations by PHS Chemistry teachers
PHS Makers Club
Physics of Alternative Energy Class Projects
Service Learning Student Films

Piedmont Middle School Makers:

“Lucy’s Home Alone” Student Band
PMS Maker Club
PMS Maker Class Projects
Robotic Elephant
Soap Bubbles

Beach Elementary School Makers:

3D Printed House
Cat Tracker Citizen Science
Comparing Burn Rates of Drought Resistant and Non-Drought Resistant Trees
Holding Cookies Robot 160
How to Make Soap?
Lego Creation
The Life of Elephants
Popsicle Stick Bridge
RC Race Dynamics
Singing Glasses
Soap Makers
A Tea Investigation
Troll-Bear Robot
Vincent van Gogh and His Style
What is the Science of Tennis?
Which Liquid Will Seeds Grow Fastest In?

Havens Elementary School Makers:

Flippy The Tumbling Robot
An Isaac Clone
Lego Master Builder
Nails and Screws: Which is Stronger?
Pet Rocks
Pinball Machines
San Francisco’s Amazing Buildings
Scorpion Coaster
Stop Motion Video
Sugar Crystallization
Wind Power

Wildwood Elementary Makers:

Car-Generated Electricity
Dry Ice Bubbles
Model Mania
Solar Still
Squishy Circuits
Team Robomaster
Which dog breath freshener is most effective?

Community Makers:

Boy Scouts – Piedmont Council
Chabot Space & Science Center
CHIME Student Concert
Dress Best for Less
Eclipse Chasing
Girl Scouts of Northern California
Moog Synthesizer
OakLabs Laser Fabrication
Oculus Rift Virtual Reality
Piedmont Student Film Festival
Piper – DIY Minecraft Computer
PUSD Instructional Technology
Suitcase Amp
Tape Heads

Food Trucks:

Streetdog Chicago-Style Hotdogs
Tonli Dumpling
Izzy’s Frozen Custard

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