This class is based on projects, large and small. It is based on discussions. It is based on visits to places where technology is used. Students learn how things are put together, by disassembling them – from a pocket calculator to an ink-jet printer. They learn how to put things together, from concept to finished product. Teacher Dr. Vince Gutschick leads the sessions, with much give-and-take with the students. He draws on his background in a scientific career, in which he built much technical apparatus and obtained a patent for sensing light incident on many plant leaves simujltaneously.
A great example of this last effort is the design and building of the light-up periodic table of the chemical elements. Lou Ellen Kay and Vince Gutschick, with their son David and his now wife, Yi, visited the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico, where they saw a periodic table with 4 different patterns of elements lighting up – elements formed in the Big Bang, or in the Sun now, or in the Sun at the end of its life, or in a supernova. Vince got the idea for students to build a periodic table with far more capabilities, displaying elements one-by-one by atomic number, or by order of discovery, or by abundance in the Earth’s crust, or by abundance in the human body. For each choice, an LED lights up behind the appropriate element’s cell. At the same time, a narration researched, written, and recorded by the students plays. The choices are made using 4 buttons that address a program written in Python on a tiny Raspberry Pi computer, with commands sent to a complex logic board with 19 addressable latches and 10 comparators. He and the students worked out a physical design, as well as the user experience. They did the electronic layout, the drilling, the wiring and soldering, the programming. As of November 2016 it’s in the final stage of removing the “bugs” in the logic board operation.
Students learn how other people create and manage technologies. Students in grades 3-8 visited a well of the Jornada Water Company, where company co-owner Denny Rogers showed them all the piping, monitoring, and water quality adjustment elements.
Students also learn about more remote technologies – satellite remote sensing (we have a ground station for NOAA-18 and -19, being revamped currently), human flights to the moon and Mars, and the operation of cell phones, among others.
They discuss the social effects of technology (haves/have-nots, desocialization). They learn about the massive intellectual investment tying together the efforts of literally millions of people in making a cellphone, from scientists to engineers to designers to miners to factory workers to patent lawyers to financial managers to regulators to cellphone tower erectors.