Education / Environment

Student inventors explore machines

Bruce Le

Students gathered for a session at the Iridescent Science Studio in the BankNote building.

Iridescent  kindles interest in science and math

A group of elementary and high school students gathered in Hunts Point on a recent afternoon to watch a lizard doing pushups.

They peered at a video screen that showed a small lizard approaching a machine made out of tubes. As the lizard crept closer, the tubes began to move up and down. After a few seconds, the lizard began to mimic the movement, raising its body and lowering itself to the ground repeatedly.

The machine was able to cause a reaction in the lizard by making a linear motion. Later, the children used cardboard boxes and plastic straws to build their own linear motion machines as part of the “Be an Inventor” program at Iridescent Science Studio in the BankNote building on Garrison Avenue.

Sanitation worker Ben Lattimer set up a chair next to the coat rack to watch his daughter Tyler build her machine. Lattimer said 8-year-old Tyler, who goes to Girls Prep on Kelly Street, showed an aptitude for math and science.

“She’s in the third grade and she’s doing math that I can hardly do. She loves math and she loves learning about the universe,” said the proud dad, who hopes Tyler will learn how to create and invent things, but also that by continuing to try, she will learn how to persist through difficulty.

Helped by high school students, called “Explainers,” Tyler and her group were re-purposing pizza boxes to make machines. The Explainers showed the children diagrams of tubes connecting to a box to make other tubes either rotate of move straight up and down in a linear motion. Each student drew a blueprint in her notebook showing what the machine would look like. Straws, tape and cardboard were passed around all over the workroom.

Each student made a cardboard box, then worked on cutting holes in the right spot. The Explainers compared their prototypes to the diagrams they had drawn to make sure that all the pieces would connect properly.

Ladji Timite, a junior at Fordham Preparatory Academy, who learned about the program from his counselor at school, said being an Explainer was a two-way street.

“I learn a lot from kids, too, by becoming friends and trying to find new ways to be creative,” said Timite.

Another Explainer, Hunts Point resident Luis Rivera, a 16-year-old sophomore at Bronx Leadership Academy 2, plans to study mechanical engineering in college.

“I hope I can steer the kids in the right direction, and I really hope I can make a difference here,” said Rivera.

Paul Block, pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church on Prospect Avenue in Longwood, enrolled his son Myles in the “Be an Inventor” program. “I love Iridescent in general,” said Block, who said it provides a great opportunity to supplement his son’s science education. Myles has also taken astronomy classes at Iridescent, and loves coming there, his father said.

In addition to making their machines, the students learned about computer coding–creating instructions for a computer–and computer processing–executing the instructions.

“Tyler typed a coding language into her computer and watched a purple semicircle on a dark blue background appear on the screen. “It’s really fun because when you press it you could make different colors and shapes,” she said.

Asked about her ambitions, the 8-year-old said she wants to be an inventor, but also an ice skater. Maybe one day she could invent new ice skating moves, she mused.

Bobby Zacharias, head of the Explainers, demonstrated what would happen when someone who has learned processing connects his computer to a store-bought computer circuit, called an Arduino, which looks like a big green computer chip. He connected a wire from the computer to the circuit and was able to make a little metal flag spin around, illustrating rotational movement, one of the concepts the students were learning about.

“We want them to relate computers to their creation,” said Zacharias. “Processing is the bridge between computers and the machines they make.”

William Barkley, a 10-year-old student at Hyde Leadership Charter School, was quietly working on his machine. He clipped pieces of bamboo skewers with scissors and connected their ends with rubber bands. His diamond-shaped machine was able to stretch and contract, and looked like a perfect replica of the diagram his Explainer had shown him.

“I like that you can turn simple things into different things that have a different meaning,” said Barkley.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply