Lake Tahoe Launch … Messy and Worth It – The Short Version

So after last week’s debacle … we learned to be patient and wait for better wind conditions. Here’s the short version of what happened. We inflated on the beach at DL Bliss State Park:


Paddle boarded the balloon out where the clear water of Lake Tahoe was about 45 feet deep:


With a snorkeler for help (he also shot some great video with a GoPro I’ll share another time):


Next we launched with 2 GoPro cameras 40 feet deep in the lake at the end of a line and 4 more on other payloads:


Here are some of the views we got:

For size reference: Lake Tahoe is almost 22 miles long and a bit more than 11 miles wide. (35 km long X 19 km wide). The lake is 1645 feet deep (501 meters).

Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Nevada, Reno and Pyramid Lake from 90,000 feet + (near space)


Then the balloon burst somewhere between 95,000 and 100,000 feet – follow the link to see the frame by frame of the burst:

And the video:



Then it landed and we went and got it:

There was some animal byproduct to deal with:

It was a great day!

Here is a link to more photos.

NOTE: This launch was part of a project being developed by the University of Nevada, Reno- Mechanical Engineering Department, the 21st Century Division of the Washoe County School District, and Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program (who I work for now). We were trying out some technologies and possible engineering and science problems to turn over to area K-12 students to solve for a similar launch next April or May – still in the planning stages.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Digital Video, Education, Field Trips, Inclusion, Messy Learning, Project Based, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 2 Comments

Messy Balloon Launch – Failure is a Teacher

I’ve been “Tweeting” out from time to time lately about our latest “High Hopes” balloon launch. This balloon launch is different from launches we’ve done in the past in that students are not directly involved … but this flight is really all about getting students to be involved.

Lake Tahoe From Near Space during a previous flight (blue object in upper corner is a party balloon attached to the payload)











We have big plans for a project next year that will involve students, but we need to try out a few new twists and some new technology and that is complicated. In addition, one of our ulterior motives is to try things that won’t necessarily work or go well …  and so we’ll turn our ideas, results, and  problems over to students for them to engineer and re-engineer. It’s all part of that engineering design process.

In fact, some of what we are attempting is so complicated we experienced a failed launch yesterday. Part of the failure was trying to figure out the procedures required to launch a balloon from and in the water. This involves having divers in the water and has not been tried before so we were working it out. Our failure mostly resulted however, from trying to launch when the wind was just too gusty and unpredictable. Here is the video of the second balloon that popped on the ground:

This video was actually shot by a camera that was laying on its side waiting to be dropped into the lake … I rotated the image so it is easier to watch. The balloon is blown right into the kayak paddle … and that was that. We are monitoring the wind and will make a new attempt to launch next week when all members of the team have time and it isn’t a windy day … AT ALL … so watch for the results … if things go as planned we should get back some great photos and videos.

A more important reason for this post however is that if school was still in session I would be sharing this story with students and teachers … and I plan to in the future. I would also share this video of a NASA balloon launch gone astray that almost killed people and caused millions of dollars in damage. I have shown this commercial of Michael Jordan explaining the power of failure as well. (How many examples can you think of right now to add here? I bet a bunch.)

Students have to understand that adults and even “experts” have things, “not go as planned,” and that how we process and handle that is vital. This is the crux of “messy learning.” That the process should not purposely involve careless, especially dangerous mistakes born of disregard, but that analyzing and learning from mistakes is how learning evolves. We should be teaching this through the experiences happening in and out of our classrooms.

That takes time … learning and doing  that are important involve dealing with complexity and the complications that can only be realized by attempting complicated things. That kind of learning and doing can’t always be put on a tight schedule, nor should it. It also can’t always be planned or experienced the same across 2 or more classrooms on the same grade level when teachers are meeting in PLCs. Complexity and learning happen beyond what we can plan and we must embrace that more in our schools. To be fair I think most believe that, where we fall down is in not REALLY embracing it and allowing it to happen … even sometimes.

This messy learning is a big part of what STEM is about. Beyond the learning being messy, the planning, administration, scheduling and implementation are messy as well. And somehow it has to be OK that they are messy.

Sharing our failures and our thinking, planning and implementation after failure is one important aspect we don’t often give the respect it deserves in our schools.

Learning is messy!

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3D Printers – Where Will It End?

I’ve known about 3D printers for quite awhile, but only though news reports and the occasional conversation. So once I got involved in building my own …  then of course they were on my radar and I constantly notice them and hear about them … and acquaintances that have seen mine printing in my cubicle at work are amazed at the whole concept. Not that my printer is much of an example as yet … everything I have printed so far is flawed – not enough heat or printing too fast or ???. It needs adjustment and I need some time and some mentoring to get it there.








My printer printing out a 3D squirrel.


Here are just a few examples of where 3D printing is heading that have been in the news lately – click on the titles to read more:

Researchers are using 3D printers to make blood vessels






[Image credit: Khademhosseini Lab]

From the article:

“There has been talk of printing blood vessels for a few years, but it’s tricky to make tissue that fits the complex shapes of a human body while remaining effective. However, a research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital may have licked that problem: they’ve 3D printed vessels using a new technique that allows for intricate yet capable designs.”


3D-Printed Food Actually Looks (and Tastes) Pretty Delicious

“Across the pond, in Germany, companies are doing some incredible things with 3D printing. They’re using it to make food. Actual food, like the kind that tastes good.

One of the more successful projects is Biozoon’s Smoothfood, which was developed to print food for senior citizens in retirement and assisted living communities. Those communities have a major need for food that their residents do not need to chew.”


Giant Chinese 3D printer builds 10 houses in just 1 day







From the article:

“A private company located in eastern China has printed ten full-size houses using a huge 3D printer in the space of a day. The process utilizes quick-drying cement, but the creators are being careful not to reveal the secrets of the technology.

China’s WinSun company, used a system of four 10 meter wide by 6.6 meter high printers with multi-directional sprays to create the houses. Cement and construction waste was used to build the walls layer-by-layer, state news agency Xinhua reported.”

The article/post includes a YouTube video that exhibits the houses and the printer in action.

These represent just a few of the ways 3D printing is being used – they’re even looking into printing food and more in space. What are the implications in education and in our lives?

Learning is messy!


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Ball Chain Inquiry – STEM

Yeah, I know. Ball chain inquiry?

Ball chain is that chain that keychains and the like have been made out of for years. I’ll bet some of you have seen this before – there are several videos online and “Mythbusters” included it in an episode.












When I saw those videos I had ideas right away for an inquiry piece that would be fairly cheap and easy to do. I haven’t thought enough about it yet to match it to specific standards … but I’m always on the lookout for easy / quick ways to demo inquiry during professional development trainings I do and I saw potential for this right away.

This 250 foot roll came in a few weeks ago but I haven’t had a chance to try out my ideas yet – today not many folks are in the office, so I jumped at the chance to finally mess around with it and see how it works.

Before saying more let’s take a look – click the video below:

One thought I’ve already had besides, “So what exactly causes that to happen?” (is it somewhat on the same principle as a siphon? –  Not sure – just wondering) is to measure out lengths of the ball chain (10 meters say) and time how long it takes to empty the container. Then ask, “How long do you think it would take for say… 20 meters?” (exactly twice as long? … or does it speed up as it falls?) NOTE – I wouldn’t share that with students, let them decide and then in writing explain their thinking. So they need to time it precisely (do more than one trial at each length – probably 3).

Next keep adding lengths to the chain with the connectors and see if students can become accurate at predicting the exact time. AND – then start including various lengths of chain, like 17.4 meters … can they predict that? What math do they require to figure that out? Or involve fractions instead of decimals – “How long would it take 47 3/4 meters to empty?”

Does height play a role? Does it drop at a different rate from different heights? How would we figure that out?

I see lots of possibilities for this. When I get a chance to try this out with teachers and/or students I’ll let you know what I find out … OR – if you get there before me, let us all know in the comments. Any other ideas how this could be utilized as a learning activity?

BTW – I got that 250 foot roll you see in the photo online for $20 and a bag (50 at least) of the connectors for a couple dollars more. (#10 ball chain – it comes in various sizes – that would be another exploration – does different size chain fall at different speeds?)

Learning is messy!

Posted in Brian Crosby, Digital Video, Education, Messy Learning, Project Based, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access | Leave a comment

Story of a 3D Printed Whistle

Pavel Solin is an associate professor in the Applied Mathematics Department at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the founder of NCLab, an open public cloud computing platform that provides free web browser access to open source software related to computer modeling and scientific computing. I teamed up with him earlier this year to teach a coding class for teachers ….  well he taught it, I set the class up and took attendance basically.

Pavel contacted me this week with a story about elementary students engineering a whistle that might actually work – I’ve cut and pasted his blog post about it below. I am adding video clips of trying the printed out designs. One aspect that amazes me is that the printer prints out the ball inside the whistle … inside the whistle!

I’ve seen many examples of figures printed out on a 3D printer … and they are impressive. Students have to figure out and problem solve coding the design to get it just right. But this is different in that students aren’t just printing out a figure that looks like a whistle, they are using the engineering design process to make a whistle that actually works … hopefully.

Understand that in this instance students were scaffolded along the way by their teacher. I was thrilled when Pavel gave me the 3 whistles to use as examples. I’m really looking forward to trying projects like this once the 3D printer I am building from a kit is finished (2 days from now is the goal!).

 Pavel’s post with my addition of video clips:

Story of a Whistle

Few days ago, kids from the Schurz Elementary School in Mineral County School District, supervised by Jeremy Elsmore, designed a whistle. I was amazed by the idea of creating something that works. So far, all 3D models I saw were just for display. Here it is. The ball inside the chamber is cool. Once printed, it will remain trapped there forever.

Naturally, the students were anxious to see whether the 3D print would produce sound. Me too.

Click the video link below to see if this whistle design works!


But unfortunately, it did not. The symmetry cutplane reveals that all the air blown into the whistle leaves through the large opening before entering the chamber, and even before hitting the opposite edge.



Second Design

Kids sometimes tend to give up when something does not work. This example can be used to show them that when something does not work, that’s not the end at all. On the contrary – it’s the beginning. To force the air into the chamber, the design was changed:

To better see how the whistle is arranged inside, here is the symmetry cutplane again:

And, this is the 3D print:

Click the video link below to see if the second “re-engineered” design works.



Nice, right? Do you think that it worked? Nope. Argh!


Third Design

The whistle is not a simple thing at all. We googled for schematics of whistles but those we found were not very useful. We also watched several YouTube videos showing how to create a whistle. But all of them were using a different design, without the ball and chamber, based just on a short straight piece of wood. Nevertheless, in all of them, the edge that is hit by the streaming air was sharp. That’s what we did in the third design:

Again, here is the symmetry cutplane that reveals the internals:

And finally, this is the 3D print:

Will the third try be the charm? Click the video to find out:

So what else could be designed and printed that actually is a working product? I already thought up designing a whirlybird design that flies on its own. What else?


Learning is messy!

Posted in 3D Printing, Change, Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

A Quick Point About STEM

I’ll be heading out this Tuesday to New Orleans for the NSTA STEM Forum. On Thursday I’ll be presenting: “STEM What Does That Really Look Like In A Classroom.” It’s a presentation I’ve done a number of times in various versions.

Basically I share examples right out of my classroom (and other teacher’s classrooms my students and I have collaborated with over the years). A major point I make is that STEM is language intense and a very powerful language arts intervention (You’ll have to see my presentation to learn how). A truly integrated STEM approach should make connections in every subject, and that is why I promote STEM as a broad, rich, inclusive curriculum. Note that I also mention that I don’t care if we call it STEM … to me anything that brings back a broad, rich, inclusive curriculum after so many years of a narrowed to very narrowed curriculum is OK with me.

Many of the schools I serve, especially the schools that have recently become STEM schools or academies , have also been schools that have experienced the most narrowing of their curriculum. STEM gives them “permission” to bring those subjects back, a big part of my job is facilitating them in doing so.

However, I’ve had conversations with teachers and parents that have had negative experiences with STEM. They explain that when STEM learning was introduced at their site that the arts and other subjects were virtually removed from the curriculum and the STEM subjects were given all the focus (science, technology, engineering and math).  In general this approach misses the point of STEM learning. I point to Leonardo da Vinci as one example of a STEM scholar. He integrated the STEM subjects with the arts, including music. A truly integrated approach that emphasizes the connections between subjects and fields of study should be the goal of a STEM program.

Any thoughts?

Learning is messy!


Posted in Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

Even Saturday Afternoon We Are 3D Printer Building

Yes, we we’re back at it today. Not everyone could make it, but there we’re 14 –  3D printers under construction today. A few folks even finished and got theirs printing. Some of us have missed possible work days so we are a bit behind, and next week I’m off to New Orleans for the NSTA STEM Forum and then my daughter’s graduation from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, so I’ll miss the next 2 work days.











Today featured lots of soldering:











And attaching pieces with allen wrenches and lock nuts:












Ironically, some of the parts we installed today we’re printed on a 3D printer – I placed the pliers in the shot for scale:














Which when assembled and attached to a motor became a new part:













Our progress today:








































Lots of messy learning today … had to drill out a piece made from aluminum that was not quite big enough to accept a heater core … I can’t show pictures of how we did it … not a good example for safety, holding a piece in my hand while using a high speed hand drill to bore it out – took a half hour at least. A few parts that had to be uninstalled and then reinstalled to get everything to fit just right slowed things down as well.

More in a week or so.

Learning is messy!

Posted in 3D Printing, Change, Education, Messy Learning, Project Based, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | Leave a comment

What Better Way to Spend A Friday Evening? – 3D Printer Building

Last week I missed the Saturday class and 4 hours of time to work on my 3D printer. Fortunately they offered some extra time Friday night to work. So about 6 of us showed up and spent 3 to 4 hours.




This all takes place in the University of Nevada, Reno, Engineering Design Lab.





Doug Taylor and I spread out all the parts from our 2 printers – still lots to assemble.













Slowly but surely the printers take shape.

As usual the laser cut wood that makes up the bulk of the pieces reeks of burned wood.










I add 2 more motors, (out of 5 total)  several belts and rollers that snap into their tracks and then make sure each part moves smoothly and easily. And when they don’t, adjustments are made and parts are taken apart and put back together correctly a few times (messy learning for sure).












The screen is attached and it starts to look more like a 3D printer.


















This is where I ran out of time today, but back at it tomorrow. Lots of parts left to go, and based on others that are farther along … “lots of soldering … lots and lots of soldering.”





The prototype was running again today … mocking us it seemed. We’ll get there. :)

The prototype of our printer showing off.

The view from the back:

Learning is messy!

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Parent Won’t Allow 10 year old to Blog – Wants to Protect Their Child’s Intellectual Property Rights

A teacher that recently started a class blog in 4th grade (9 – 10 year olds) informed me that a parent had declined to sign the “permission slip” allowing their child to blog because, “They want to protect their child’s intellectual property rights.”

My first reaction was “… uh, OK … uh wait …  what!?”

As I thought about it I realized that perhaps I had missed being aware of  this issue and so I decided I should look into it further. (1) I wanted to know if it is a legitimate concern, and (2) if there was information I could find that would mitigate the parent’s apprehensiveness and allow the student to participate in a valuable learning experience – blogging (and other social networks). I also knew this could be an excuse the parent was using from fear of having their child’s work online – which is not uncommon. I should also mention that the student will blog and post work using a pseudonym, not their real name. I have had parents occasionally refuse initially to allow their child to blog or post anything online, but after meeting with them and explaining what we were up to and showing examples they’ve always given permission.

Before I go on please, please share any insights to this you may have in the comments. If this is a non-issue, I’d like to give the teacher involved either a heads-up or points to make to the parent.

I’m not privy to any specifics the parent had in mind here, but I’m guessing they are concerned that if their child grew up to be someone famous, or the writing or media pieces they post now might have value in the future (example what if Steven King or Steven Spielberg had had blogs when they were 10 (or younger) and their work (writings, videos, etc.) as a child were accessible through postings on the web? Is there some way that work would diminish the value of other work they produced now or in the future? Could someone market writings, videos, other media they produced and posted online somehow (legally) and make money? Are there other implications / rights that I’m not thinking of that could be an issue?

Of course I went right to my PLN in Twitter and asked for help thinking that I might find out that of course this is an issue …  you didn’t know!? Which was a real possibility.

  • Had a parent today not allow 10 yr. old to blog, wants to protect her child’s intellectual property rights. ? ?


  • And I soon received feedback:


  •  There are lots of misconceptions out there about IP rights. Was once told by a tchr the reason she never posted anything online >






  • I responded with:


  • Good point. Maybe we have to put copyright / creative commons language on student blogs? (or is it already there?)



I received many other great responses, mostly about setting the student’s privacy settings certain ways and other “work arounds” which were insightful in their own right, but I’m not looking for work arounds at this point. I just want to know if this is even a real issue. It would be best if this student could participate fully.

Again if you have any knowledge of the implications / law / or something I’m addressing here of on this topic, please leave a comment.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Blogging, Education, Student Access, Teacher Access, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Update: Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

One of the challenges of my job as STEM Learning facilitator for 6 counties, has been that some of those counties (school districts here are by county, so every county is it’s own school district) have very restrictive online access policies … meaning they block almost anything even remotely social – blogs, wikis, photo archiving sites like Flickr and more. In one school district I was working with a group of teachers and pointed out that I’d found one of the above “not-blocked” – my mere mention of the fact was met with “SHHHH!” and,  “Don’t tell anyone! If they know its open they’ll block it!” But when I asked if that meant someone was using it they admitted that no they weren’t – for various reasons … none of them about educating children.


I just want to point out that the “T” in STEM stands for technology, and the real power of that technology is learning to learn, sharing learning, collaboration and more. The standards even demand that students collaborate globally, and as I point out often, I don’t think they mean by sending letters back and forth.

Back in November I wrote a post about this issue and asked for feedback on:  “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?” I received some great feedback in the comments section from some really smart people – check them out in the comments on that post. During a Twitter chat I even got a response from Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education asking for the names of the districts that blocked these sites. Although I did collaborate with folks from the USDOE after that, it was agreed that having Secretary Duncan contact these school districts directly was probably not the best course of action.

Instead we ramped up our campaign of information – both gathering information about what led the opposition to access, and disseminating information about safety and the reality of the various laws on internet and information use and access that many were misinterpreting to mean if they gave access to anything social on the internet they’d lose their e-rate funding.

In December I was invited to present to one district’s EdTech committee. I used a 2-pronged approach. I showed them numerous examples of the powerful use of these technologies and applications as learning places. Collaborative projects, how blogging can be used to motivate writing, editing, communicating, collaborating and more – wikis, video-conferencing, Google Docs and more – I have many examples right from my own classroom, but also with the many teachers and students my classes collaborated with over the years.

Next I pointed out the realities from laws designed to keep students safe online (the ones that lead folks to believe they’ll lose their e-rate funding and be sued). I was able to use numerous sources to point out that the law, in a nutshell, states that you must basically show that you are trying hard to keep students safe, if something then goes wrong you are OK (slightly more complicated than that).

The good news is, that that school district has “green lighted” a pilot program of blogging in one of their elementary schools with 4th graders. Tomorrow I meet with the teachers at the school to get their blogs set up and a bit of training … then Tuesday I’m back all day to get each class started to blog and post a few times to get the process down as a first step. I noted last week while visiting the school that wikis are now unblocked and even Flickr (but almost no one uses them yet or even realizes that they are unblocked), so we have a foot in the door!

I’m not nervous at all to work with the teachers tomorrow, but I don’t get to work with students more than a handful of times a year anymore, and so I can tell I have that combination of being both excited and nervous about being in a classroom … like the first day of school feeling. I’ll keep you updated.

Learning is messy!





Posted in Blogging, Change, Cooperative Learning, Education, Making Connections With Blogging, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Video Skype, Web 2.0, Wikis | Leave a comment