Monday, March 28, 2016

Lessons while Soldering

We recently purchased soldering irons for use in the Learning Lab. These Weller soldering irons have proven to work well. They have temperature controls and include a stand and sponge. This support proved to be important for our students who were at times struggling with fine motor skills on this project. In fact, after watching one student do well with a soldering stand, I purchased several more for our second session. We also had wire cutters available.

Again our teen volunteers proved to be very helpful.  Not only did one of them lead the students through the assembly of this WeevilEye kit, but they also were incredibly helpful with the students who needed help following directions and support with fine motor skills. Almost all of these grade 4 - 6 students were able to solder together the kit successfully.

We set up the stations with a piece of masonite over the table to protect it from burns. The cords went down between the two tables and connected to power strips underneath.  We had the power strips turned off until after we had gone over safety rules, had a demonstration, and were ready to start. Of course we all had safety glasses and I had made sure that we had ice on hand and that the first aid kit was stocked with neosporin. Happily there were no incidents.

At first I had mixed feelings about this program which was basically soldering a circuit board and assembling a kit.  The underlying purpose of the Learning Lab is to foster innovation and provide space for open-ended learning and problem-solving.  In fact, a colleague came up to me while the workshop was going on and said "wow, they are learning so much."  My immediate reaction was negative. I was frustrated that the students were just following directions and not really THINKING.

Here is a student using a "solder sucker" to repair her soldering.
But then I thought about it some more. Of course, they were learning soldering skills which could be applied to other more open-ended projects in the future.  But they were learning more. They were learning about being precise and about what happens when you don't do something perfectly. They had to fix their mistakes or the circuit wouldn't work. That's what this museum is all about--so we were learning about precision here at the American Precision Museum.

I also realized that they were learning about collaboration and helping each other. Of course, some students finished before others.  I encouraged them to lend a helping hand and was happy to see this helper step up to the plate. We are trying to foster leadership here as well--someday our teens will graduate and we will need new students to step in.

In the end, this soldering class gave me lots to think about. It made me reaffirm the pedagogical underpinnings to our work and helped me broaden my own thinking about what the kids are learning and how we achieve our goals.

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