You might remember Kelly from the video we made below, back in April. We collaborated on a project inspired by the air plant curtain featured at Bok Tower Gardens and made out of laser cuts and 3D printed plants drawn and designed by our students. You can see the students working on their designs above.
My name is Kelly McNeil and I teach at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. I teach Technology and Design and Computer Science Principles. I am starting my second year of teaching now.
About 120, but this number can vary. Students have started showing up who aren’t in my classes because they heard from other students or teachers that I like video games, cybersecurity, making apps, or they ask about Girls Who Code. They will come to chat or ask questions and I try to engage and work with everyone even if they aren’t enrolled in one of my classes. I also volunteer outside of the school with youth projects like judging tech-related events and working as a mentor in youth tech projects when they come up. These students are outside of my school but are in the middle to high school age range.
Yes, but I don't do this as much as I would like to. Generally I have a lot of ideas knocking around in my head but some of them have yet to come to fruition. Any project that is made in class with my kids, I always make it myself at home ahead of time - this includes doodle bots, cardboard prototypes, LED circuit projects, etc. Everyone who knows me knows that I like to tinker with old electronics and devices. I get donations of computers and laptops to take apart. I have a stack of old laptops that I wipe the operating systems to put Linux operating systems on for kids to get exposure to, including my kids at home.
One of my favorite projects was using a Raspberry Pi, a credit card sized computer, to put together a Minecraft server for my son and his friend to play on. The processor in a Pi isn’t meant to handle a server well, so it wasn’t fabulous but I got to be the administrator and also used the project to explain how a server works to my kids, in school and at home.
A project I have in the works is to build a display for my classroom with some basic PC components - RAM, processor, motherboard - that has descriptions of the components on the display board with LED above them and buttons underneath the physical component; when a student presses the button under a specific component, the corresponding description on the board will light up.
Yes. I have talked to my students about some of my projects. Specifically in my app class I talk about the apps I've made, and in my technology classes I will talk about taking apart computers, setting up servers, etc.
I have talked to them about my personal projects, but not as much as I would have liked to.
I think it enhances and helps teaching. I believe that students have more confidence in what you are saying and they are more willing to try it if they know that you are capable of making something technical work.
Does working with young people help to enhance the projects you make?
Young people are full of creativity and I love to learn from them as much as I share my knowledge with them. Many of my projects are inspired by what I can share with them and often sharing ideas with them and seeing how they run with it can lead to new projects and ideas.
The idea that I can help shape the future by inspiring generations of students to be innovative and to create, not just consume. I also really love hands-on projects and the freedom to create my own curriculum.
Do you host any large events that feature your students' projects so that the larger community can see what the students are making? What about school-specific events?
I don’t host any events but our school hosts an exhibition for high school to showcase ‘makerspace’ projects and I have future plans to work with the middle school towards this end.
How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?
Most of my projects are pair or group projects. I think collaboration is a key 21st century career and life skill. I get mixed results from group projects--sometimes successful and sometimes a struggle--but I do see growth in the students when they work together. I try to allow as much personal choice as possible but I have found sometimes giving students too much choice leads to indecisiveness or poor productivity. There is a fine balance between giving guidelines and giving them the whole idea for the project.
Some technical projects are very linear and so it is hard to bring imagination into the picture. Working with electronics, for example: soldering circuits and understanding components is very straightforward. I try to inspire imagination and creativity by showing them examples of projects others have done all over the world that they are able to create with the technical skills they have learned. Programming projects have a lot of room for imagination.
Yes! I have brought in an Environmental Engineer, a City Planner, and an IT consultant so far. When I am out and about attending Maker Faires or other maker and tech-related events, I network with others to find experts in subject areas who are interested in coming in and talking to my students.
What are your top five favorite supplies to use with students, and why?
3D Printer and Laser Cutter - With these machines, I am able to teach 2D and 3D design and lead so many creative projects to make either artistic or utilitarian items for our school or community.
Arduino - Microcontrollers have endless possibilities for teaching circuits and building many projects or inventions.
Sketchbook - Even though most of my class is digital, this analog staple is a necessity. I require all students to sketch ideas prior to prototyping.
ePortfolio - Currently I am using Google Sites but this is because it's easy to use. I have my students document their progress and projects throughout the semester and put all their documentation on their portfolio.
Scratch - I don't know if this qualifies as a 'tool', but Scratch is a graphical, drag-and-drop programming language that is a blast for kids. They can create their own stories, animations, and games fairly quickly and easily and be introduced to many computer science and programming concepts.
Do you have a favorite lesson plan that you could share with us?
Squishy Circuits is one of my favorite lesson plans for introducing a simple circuit in a fun way!!
- 9v Battery
- Alligator clip jumper wires
- Play Doh
Put students in pairs or groups. Let them explore Cleo Circuit World while you are passing out supplies - each group gets a couple LEDs, a 9v battery, 2 alligator clip wires (ideally red and black) and a ball or cup of play doh.
Demonstrate for students how to create a circuit with the jumper wires properly hooked up to the positive and negative terminals of the battery then placed in two separate, not touching balls of play doh. Show the two leads coming out of the LED and how the long side is the positive side or cathode - this is important to get the LED to light up and the shorter lead is the negative side or anode.
Walk around as students are trying to get their circuit to light up. Common problems are the two play doh balls are touching (short circuit) or the LED needs to be flipped around and stuck back into the two balls of play doh.
Let kids explore by adding more LEDs and different colors. See what happens when more LEDs are added and this leads to a discussion on series and parallel circuits. This lesson is fun and can be scaled up or down for different age groups. Below is an example of a Squishy Circuit frog found on Science Buddies.