3D Design & Printing

By Grayson Wade, 8th grader

During my time as a middle schooler, I have come to realize that The Philadelphia School creates virtual spaces for its students to experiment and explore concepts all on their own. One of those exploratory areas of study is 3D design. Our MacBooks this year came equipped with apps like Blender and SketchUp, which are both platforms to originate unique CAD (Computer-Aided Design) files and models.  

As a member of the TPS SWATT (Students With Aptitude Toward Technology) community service group, my classmates and I were tasked with putting together two donated FlashForge 3D printers. After constructing the hardware, the students of SWATT tried to figure out what to print and how to design it. We quickly decided we were going to make a smartphone case with the TPS logo on it. During this discernment process, we were introduced to an open-sourced program called Blender. Blender is fairly easy to use, and when combined with a replicator app, it can print STL files designed in it. (It also does animation!) This type of program opened the door to limitless possibilities. In the future, we thought it could be utilized to make an art project, animate something for a prototype presentation, or create something to sell in the school store.

The Technology Department told us that while our school was filled with master teachers, there were also an infinite amount of trusted experts sharing their knowledge and broadcasting instructions on how to do something (like print an original CAD file) on YouTube. After watching a few YouTube tutorials, I was able to create an animation of a plane flying around and doing tricks. This was all completed in my free or workshop time this year, but I can imagine a future when there could be an entire period dedicated to exploring 3D design and printing, perhaps as part of an intensive or mini course. When technology plays a role in classrooms, some amazing things, previously unimaginable, can result.

Don’t Just Visit Websites: Build Them

By Matt Murray, Tech Integrator

Non-profit TechGirlz and TPS teamed up once again for its annual TechShop, a free workshop for middle school girls involving a trending, teachable concept in technology. This year’s edition focused on building a website using HTML/CSS. Led by Emily Supil, Business Intelligence Analyst at IBM and Girls Who Code Club Facilitator at TPS, the 16 girls in attendance fearlessly jumped into a rigorous study of the concept (short for Hypertext Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets), considered the backbone of most websites.

Thirteen TPS fifth and sixth graders, along with a few students from Girard Academic Music Program, came together to work first in CodePen, a web-based, front-end developer playground that allows students instant access to editing pre-existing template webpages - a social environment that makes it fun and easy to make mistakes without feeling like one has broken the internet. The girls learned to edit headers, change font styles, create page breaks, and enumerate ordered and unordered lists. They also figured out how to use a source image as the banner picture for their proxy website. Additionally, the attendees utilized a color variation tool, called 0to255, to find their favorite color on the color spectrum to code the border and padding of their webpages within CSS.

Once the girls finished working in the virtual sandbox, they jumped into the Atom desktop app on their MacBooks, a text editor for compiling all the unique HTML and CSS lines of code the girls can now write from scratch for their first websites. In opening a .html file within Atom, the attendees were able to interact with this previously unfamiliar extension by testing themselves to find mistakes (or “bugs”) in another person’s .html file. Once the girls were able to complete the challenges - such as ensuring that alternate text displays when an image source is broken - they got their feet wet making their own sites with a helpful template. Bouncing back and forth between Atom and their web browser of choice (mostly, Google Chrome), the girls saw their webpages come to life with each new addition.

Many of the girls who attended were surprised by how quickly they learned how to change the traits of a webpage and found it fun to make webpages with their own fingerprints on them - neon blue fonts and funny cat photos included. 

Tech Lunches

How do teachers keep up with the latest ideas about technology practice?

They go to lunch. 

The Technology Department is offering faculty and staff a new slate of Tech Lunches, monthly 30-minute conversations about a tech-centric topic, relevant to either teacher daily use or future student use of technology.

Last year's topics covered ways to organize Gmail inbox, methods to structure Drive folders, ideas to implement iPads in a classroom, and places to find cool Google tools for students.

This year we are starting our Tech Lunches line up with our favorite interrogative adverb - why. Why use technology in a classroom? Why spend time to learn more about technology? Why take risks to try something innovative?

Teachers bring their lunches but our tekkies provide dessert.

TPS Hosts TechGirlz

By Matthew Murray, Tech Integrator

The Philadelphia School hosted its first (but no way its last) TechGirlz tech workshop, “Designing Mobile Apps”. Led by UX specialist Kristen Gallagher, 12 fifth, sixth, and seventh graders came together in the TPS Multipurpose Room to learn about the journey of a tech enthusiast + professional technophile in the field and take the first steps of their own tech-based journey.

Once the girls found their teams, they were first tasked with brainstorming an idea for an app where its function, features, app name, and logo were bandied about in an energetic exchange of ideas. After the teammates engaged in the passionate (and wonderfully loud) discussion, they tapped one representative to share out the basis of their conversation with the crowd. Some of the initial app ideas included an app whose sole purpose was to be an endless scroll, a simulated animal transformation game, a version of Shazam where a simple humming of a song could link you to a streaming version of the track, and another music app that automatically downloads the songs most commonly played on your streaming services.

The teams regrouped after the share-out and began to get their ideas down on paper. As each group met, Danica, Amy, and Marylou, three members from the TechGirlz Team, along with Kristen, circulated the room to assess the quickly forming ideas, ask penetrating questions, and challenge certain notions (some silly, some just in need of more fleshing out). The eager amateur designers began illustrating a user flow and imagined the hypothetical user experience (UX). Although some of the girls claimed “not to be artists,” the logo of Hum (the song-finding app), for example, included an ingenious illustration of multiple “m’s” combined to look identical to sound wave imaging.

After a hilarious brain break led by Danica, Kristen then directed the girls to find their wire frames (of mobile phones) and begin designing the varied screens and pages in a prototype version of the app. With the help of an iOS app called Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel Comics), the girls used the cameras on their iPads to take photos of the filled-in wire frames. The app, an amazing find by TechGirlz, took the girls’ sketches and linked their frames through use of strung-together “hotspots” added to the frames, where drawings of “buttons” became actual highlighted/linkable buttons, when clicked or swiped on the prototype’s presentation. Kristen even mentioned a way to share the project through a service called Axure if the students want to take the next step beyond the prototyping completed in Marvel.

Despite some pre-game jitters, all four teams presented their ideas using a document camera and iPads. The level of pride in their design thinking and app design was evident. After showcasing the ins and outs of their prototyped apps, the girls debriefed with Kristen and received immediate feedback from their peers and teachers.

The hope is that every girl will continue to create, communicate, and collaborate beyond the one-day event and come up with even more ways to solve real-world problems. The initial signs of this happening were good as two seventh graders downloaded Marvel on their iPhones before heading home and an excited parent sent a message late in the evening, stating that her daughter had just finished designing another app.

As Kristen mentioned at the top of the workshop, “Technology is powerful because anyone can build a solution to a problem that immediately helps everyone.”

TechGirlz @ TPS

By Matt Murray, Tech Integrator

TechGirlz, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations, is teaming up with the TPS Technology Department.  On February 28th, from 3:30-6:00 in the MPR, a female professional in the field of STEM will volunteer to lead a TechShop called Designing Mobile Apps.  Attendees will form a team, select an app idea, develop a prototype, and present their final product to the other members participating in the workshop. No technical expertise or prior experience is necessary!

TechGirlz develops fun and educational hands-on workshops, enables girls to interact with professionals who have carved out successful careers in technology fields, and empowers them to be future technology leaders.

Any 5th, 6th, or 7th grade girl interested in designing a mobile app for a smartphone or tablet should register for a free ticket at the official Eventbrite page (linked here). The password to access the site and claim a spot is “TechGirlz” (no quotation marks).

At this moment, workshop enrollment is open only to the TPS community, but registration will open to the public after Monday. Spots are limited (capped at 20 seats); once all seats are filled, please email Matt Murray at [email protected] to be placed on the waitlist. If you are worried about missing out on this opportunity due to another scheduling conflict (such as the 8th Grade trip to Washington, D.C.), head to the Tech Girlz Events page to see if there are other chances to geek out and have fun at one of the many TechShopz.

iPads Go to Kindergarten

The TPS Technology Department consistently makes a concerted effort to be as cognizant as possible of our students’ in-school screen time.  Our emphasis when integrating technology into the classroom minimizes passive consumption (watching and listening) and encourages content creation on students’ digital devices.  

We often cite Common Sense Media for their robust recommendations on what apps are developmentally appropriate (via their sister site, Graphite) and where to find up-to-date research on topics like screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour per day for children aged 2-5.

When it comes to iPad Activity Stations in kindergarten, we limit per student usage of the devices and apps to 20 minutes as we rotate groups of students in and out so that everyone gets a turn.

So far this school year, students in both kindergarten classrooms have had the opportunity to learn about the scientific method, code a strawberry-loving monster to travel through a maze-like forest, draw letters with their fingers in the correct stroke order, and interact with manipulatives to spell words, create tangrams, and design structures to control the flow of atoms.

In case you’re interested in exploring some of the same digital educational experiences as our kindergarteners, here’s the shortlist of iOS apps we’ve utilized so far this school year:

Sid’s Science Fair: Classification, Charting, Sequencing, Pattern Recognition
Tangible Play’s Osmo: Physics (Newton), Tangrams, Spelling (Letters), Coding
Little Writer: Tracing Letters