Smoke City

With over two weeks of compromised breathing from wildfire smoke in the Bay Area in each of the past 2 years, I began wondering: what data is available about dangerous air conditions around the country.

We just moved from Sonoma County, where we could see the flames of the 2017 fires, further south to where the smoke and in particular the PM2.5 particulate matter is surprisingly worse. I can’t find a site that shows historical data in an easy to understand format, so I am hoping to create one from the EPA’s datasets. I have just begun to explore the data and this is very much a work in progress, but it will give me a chance to apply some of the skills I have been learning using the DataCamp Data Scientist with Python Track and hopefully provide a useful resource to others who are concerned about smoke season.

GitHub repo here: SmokeCity

Maker Portfolio

Learning from Maker Spaces – Click on the pictures to see the gallery and read captions describing what you are seeing.

Ideas picked up at Lighthouse Charter’s Creativity Lab:


Gallery of Maker projects produced at Lighthouse Charter and Park Day

Projects that explore the facets of maker education:

Learning to use a laser cutter at Chimera Arts makerspace in Sebastopol.

The laser cutter is a high tech tool that easily produces amazing finished products while developing design/computer skills and practice skills including iteration, perseverance, and craftsmanship.

Preparing for my Project Implementation: Parts, Purposes, and Complexities and a Take-Apart

I will be running a 3-4 day 2-part PPC.  Part 1 will use a physical object.  Part 2 will use equations.  I will be implementing this during the first week of school as part of my community-building and community-norms development.

Students will:

Day 1: develop ground rules for working in teams, select an object to observe, begin posters with external observation, quickwrite their favorite complexity/question

Day 2: take-apart of their object, continuing poster and PPC observations, if time, gallery walk, and self-evaluation as teammember

Day 3: apply PPC process to simple and more complex equations, demonstrate for class, examine different opinions with philosophical chairs

(Day 4: extra day if needed)

Student Learning Objectives:

  1. Teamwork
    1. Collaboration
      1. See peers as source of expertise
    2. Critique the reasoning of others
  2. Careful observation
    1. Notice structure
  3. Take responsibility for own learning
  4. Develop growth mindset

Students will be challenged to share tools, airtime, and idea space.  As part of the activity we will be closely examining how we are working, noticing “who is holding what” and “who is doing what” and swapping roles often.  Close observation of how we work in teams is an important outcome of this activity.

In particular I want students to appreciate that the things and systems around them and in this case specifically, the conventions of mathematics, were designed by humans and that those conventions are not mandates from the math gods but rather are tools that humans designed to help them work with big ideas.  Students who internalize that understanding will feel more ownership over those tools and less reticence to dive in and see what happens when we start tinkering with things (whether objects or symbols).

Complexities in both formats (objects and equations) may be represented by what questions the students have about the objects or about the equations.  Helping the students to recognize that good questions and recognizing and admitting what we don’t know are the first steps to understanding and something to be embraced is part of developing a growth mindset.

Student Ownership:

A PPC involves minimal instruction.  I will provide the opportunity and facilitate key observations about how we are working in groups as well as guidance, for example recognizing that we can capture complexities by thinking about what questions we have about a system, however, how students want to organize their process, posters, and method of take-apart, will be student led.  Classes will pause throughout the process and generate suggestions to add to a classroom/teamwork norms poster.  By owning the process and the product as well as developing the systems within which they want to work, students will take responsibility for their learning and develop agency.


I anticipate that students will have difficulty working productively in teams.  This activity should be fun and has opportunities for examining and articulating how we are working in groups and how we want to work in groups so that we will capitalize on this challenge by developing good team routines.

Things to be taken apart.
Things to be taken apart.

Choosing the PPC objects:

While simpler mechanical objects have been recommended, I am going to experiment with a mix of items some more mechanical and others with electric or electronic parts.  While electronic parts can often appear as “black boxes,” obscuring connections and complexities, hopefully these ambiguities can serve as a good jumping off point for discussions about our equations and what parts we concretely understand and what parts are more difficult to understand or are more abstract.

Tools for taking apart. To make sure all tools are returned, I outlined and labeled them. Saw this on a wall at Chimera Makerspace.
Tools for taking apart. To make sure all tools are returned, I outlined and labeled them. Saw this on a wall at Chimera Makerspace.


Maker Philosophy

I have come to believe through my exposure to Agency by Design that the purpose of making in education is to provide opportunities for students to empower themselves through developing productive “thinking routines.”  As a math teacher, this is a really important evolution in my understanding because the thinking routines that making encourages are closely aligned with the common core math practice standards.  This provides the lens I needed for framing making instructional ideas as ways to develop these practices.  An example I plan to use this week with all of my math classes is a PPC: Parts, Purposes, and Complexities on a number of broken household objects from my garage.  A PPC is a perfect way to construct models, use appropriate tools strategically, and look for and make use of structure, not to mention persevere.  The students will then apply the thinking routines they develop to equations later in the week.  While specific technologies or tools like 3d printers may be the icons of the Maker movement and can certainly inspire us (and are incredibly fun and neat and provide an access point for a lot of students) it has been revelatory to discover that Maker education is already so well intertwined with the math curriculum and can be implemented essentially on no budget.

Chimera Member Potluck

Met Joe and Jim; both are directors at Chimera Arts.

Met Athena more formally – 3rd year Yale student in Fine Arts who was at Laser Cutter Training.

Met High Street Salon folks who have debate/discussion/I presume wine and cover topics like education, work-life balance, and faith versus reason.

I discussed the work done by Agency by Design and how “thinking routines” that makers tend to have naturally are being developed in curriculum and are tool, skill, and hopefully budget – independent.

Jim is interested in having classes come on field trips.  I’ve run into Jim a lot at the events I’ve been to.  I look forward to discussing further with him what my class might do at Chimera.

Laser Cutter Training at Chimera

This training got me a “sign off” on using the laser cutter, which I can put to use during my 2 days a month at Chimera Arts makerspace.

Chimera currently has a small scale laser cutter.  It has many idiosyncrasies. Over the years of working with it, they have applied their maker initiative by modding the bed with blocks of wood and a new extruded aluminum honeycomb to allow smoke to dissipate and using a block of wood as the distance finder for the laser.  There is a very experimental nature to getting the settings correct and a collaborative nature of printing test blocks and then writing with sharpie the settings used so that others can benefit from your findings by examining old test blocks.

The software has mystery chinese messages that “you usually answer yes to”.  (My daughter wondered if maybe one of the messages was Chinese for “continue to display these messages in Chinese?”)

There is an experimental technique for what to do if it stalls: deselect previously-made cuts, turn down “Current Regulation” knob (essentially the max power knob) to zero and then just when it gets to the point where you want it to start cutting again, you crank the knob up.

I made a sign for my classroom – carve through re-used hanging file folder to make translucent block letters.

Current  machine will take 6” x 12” material…new machine will take ½” thick ply in 3’ x 4’ sizes!  Expected in December.

Farm Hack at Chimera

Farm Hack at Chimera Arts

Run by Evan, director of Farmers Guild and Dana Woodman, Laser Cutter Instructor and Chimera Director

I sat with at a table with 2 guys who build custom small scale water reclamation systems at the residential level, an Environmental Studies graduate who is starting a podcast on GMOs, and Barbara, who works with a B-corp trying to re-use materials to make bags and potentially clothing using local manufacturing.

There were about 25 people in attendance.  I noticed that only 6 were women.  I’m curious if this is representative of a typical maker turnout.

The water reclaimers had recently talked with a guy who is designing very expensive green houses that use air to regulate pests using special filters and high power fans without any pesticides.

Ethan’s intro talk: the mission of the farmers guild is to support smaller farmers. This event is to support appropriate equipment for the smaller scale.  An example of inappropriate mechanization was a tomato picker machine that only large scale farmers could afford and implement– this machine caused 80% of tomato farmers to go out of business as only large conglomerates were able to afford the machine, lowering their costs and allowing them to out-compete small farmers and then subsume their lands.  Small farmers have ingenuity and hard work instead of money.  They represent the need for the under $100,000 equipment market.

We did a full room intro.  Lots of contractors/builders.  Some database programming/ small scale electronics / lots of farmers – small scale, 2 acres or there abouts / Annie – school garden network director / Some ex-engineers

Entries will be judged on cool-factor / practicality (affordability – no budget provided) / usefulness (including replicability)

This make culminates in a competition at the Farmer Olympics (9/17).

White board proposal presentation:

Proposal 1-

In the 1940s Allis Chalmers introduced an awesome little tractor, but it had a weak gasoline engine.  There is now a movement to retrofit those old tractors with electric motors.

Some kits and retrofits were done.  Farmer has a retrofit.  Flaw is that the speed control is not fine tuned enough and is actually pretty unsafe.  Looks like a volume control that can be accidentally bumped.  Need for a better control unit.

Response – local golf cart control guy who might be able to help

Proposal 2-

Bee keeper – monitoring system for bee hives / temperature / moisture / vibration / app to keep you updated and monitor and record health of hive

Response – look into weather station retrofit

Proposal 3-

Echo farm – sandblasting weeds – actually using abrasive plant material instead of sand – tractor hauled

What about a handheld version?

Proposal 4-

Portable silo trailer – move feed silo to new pastures

Needs to move 2 tons of barley at a time.  Let it sprout for 72 hours and then deliver to hogs.

Would move over flat pasture, not needed for winter.

Proposal 5-

Bicycle Harvest Wagon – dual bicycle with adjustable width wheels and platforms between and on sides and behind to hold cargo

Proposal 6-

Person powered Bee Hive Crane for moving hives

Proposal 7-

Hand pollination for corn – need to protect corn silks from windblown pollen when protective cover is removed for hand pollination

Proposal 8-

Hand cranked chipper – small scale human-powered chipper

Proposal 9-

Compost spreader

Proposal 10-

Not actually a proposal, really a tirade on local water rights.  Water is starting to be metered even on private wells

Twin Tunnels project to divert the San Juaquin River

Proposal 11-

A water meter that doesn’t impede flow on low pressure lines like drip irrigation.

Proposal 12-

Non-chemical weed control

Most small scale vineyards use vineyard management companies that spray roundup because it’s cheap and easy.

Response – robotic gardener on kickstarter

Response – Every plant has it’s own infrared signature, perhaps use infrared spectrum to analyze individual plant spectrum to differentiate weeds from crops

A lot of excitement around this idea if it’s not too pie-in-the-sky.

Proposal 13-

Fly catcher for cows to pass through to reduce and reclaim flies as protein for chickens

After the proposals there was a Maker Group Organization phase of the meeting:

A group organized around beehive monitor right away:

Make it a kit

Look at existing solutions – ways of using the existing solutions to do what they want

What are the metrics for the group to decide how to meet requirements?

There are a lot of expensive current solutions.  This is where I end up a lot of time with maker projects – the solution already exists which steals my thunder a bit.

Annie would love to use it to involve students with the life of bees by analyzing hive health and activity in real time from any computer.

Kit can standardize implementation

Critical mass developed around this group with more and more people gathering around the table.  Some just watching, but most offering ideas.


I spoke with Barbara who works with a B-corp trying to re-use materials to make bags and potentially clothing with local manufacture.  She commented on how great it was that everyone was confident in presenting their ideas and how this safe supportive space created an environment where that was possible.  She then went to track down the pig farmer who uses large bags of barley for the portable silo to see if the bags could have a re-use.

General Info I picked up at the event-

Thursday Night – Sebastopol Makers meetings – group on facebook

Facebook has been the most successful networking tool for Farmer’s Guild.

Teams developed around: Speed controller, Bee hive monitor, Bicycle harvest wagon, Hand crank chipper

Events like this emphasize the importance of ingenuity, and maker thinking routines, regardless of what career choices we make.

Getting to know Chimera

Signing up to become a member at Chimera Arts makerspace in Sebastopol

I went to Chimera to explore whether is would be a suitable location to expand my maker network and skills.  While there I met and spoke with Sugar: volunteer, community coordinator, and “Operations Ninja.”

After taking the tour of the facility and chatting for a bit, it became clear that Chimera would be a great place for me to develop my maker skills, dispositions, and network, so I joined up as a dabbler with 2 days a month access to the space and access to trainings to become certified to use specialized equipment while I’m there.

Some things we chatted about:  Chimera wants to reach out more to SSU.  They didn’t know about the Extended Ed Maker Certificate program.  Sugar gave me an overview of what they are doing and want to do, including a complete tour of the equipment and a run down of upcoming events.   They only offer membership and usage to those 18 and over, though they do eventually want to run classes/camps for youth.  They don’t have staff to oversee the equipment, so adults need to be responsible for it’s use at all times.

Spaghetti Structures

Lesson objectives: teamwork, iteration, planning

Build a structure out of: 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 meter of twine, and 1 meter of masking tape to hold a marshmallow as high as possible from the building surface.

Work sample from the winning team’s planning process:Monster

Full work here.

Pictures soon…

Similar Triangles on Titan

“Attack on Titan”-based in-class assignment using similar triangles and the Pythagorean Theorem.


The front side is pretty straightforward proportional triangles:

A figure looms at the crossroads to Singanshina. It is casting a shadow that happens to fall at a mile marker that reads “300 meters to crossroads.” You notice that your own shadow is about twice the length of your sword …

You are 1.75 meters tall.

Your sword is 1 meter long.


The back side allows for discourse regarding where on the head you are targeting.

Files here: google drive folder

Laid out using powerpoint; artwork in sketch; 2-sided pdf of assignment.  Artwork by ilen.  Japanese translation using