Running maker projects in language classes is fun. The idea is that the language stops being the focus of the class, intead becoming a vehicle for the information that needs to be conveyed (just like in real life). In keeping with the Riverdale language department’s immersion philosophy, not a word of English was allowed. I taught this in Spanish, but I’ve done this project with languages I don’t speak (French, Chinese) by training the teacher and then being on hand in case she or he has questions.
Learning goals: to encourage students to use (and struggle with) the target language in order to complete a project they are motivated by. Along the way they learn how to design basic circuits, how to solder and do basic woodworking. They are also exposed to the maker space, some for the first time.
AA batteries and holders
3V coin cells
wire and soldering gear
switches – rocker, SPDT, or buttons
100 ohm resistors (or more or less depending on the forward voltage of your LEDs)
basic woodshop (bandsaw, sandpaper, drill )
paint or sharpies
Prior to the class I labeled all the tools in the makerspace in Spanish, as it wasn’t reasonable to expect 8th grade Spanish students to know that a bandsaw is a sierra de banda. If you’re using a bandsaw, it’s a good idea to have a helper supervising its use.
For this class the assignment was to make a machine with magical powers that used a electrical circuit. I made a lie detector beforehand with a hidden switch on the bottom so I could decide who was lying. The lie detector could be opened up to see how it worked. As always, we explained to the students that their projects would be on display for a while once the project was over.
This class runs like a normal electronics class but at a slower speed, depending on the students’ language level. You could see the students struggling to formulate the questions they wanted to ask. This is good, and shouldn’t be rushed. This project took five class periods, maybe double the time it would have taken in English.
I passed out LEDs and coin cells and asked the students to get them to light up. Soon they worked out that they only worked when placed in one direction, and then that the long leg had to be connected to the positive side of the battery. This led to some circuit diagrams on the board and how switches worked. (The Spanish word for switch, interruptor, is particularly easy to remember in this context.)
Next it was time for brainstorming. We came up with a list of possible machines to make – love detector, body odor measurer, intelligence meter, etc – working out how to say them all in Spanish. Students then each decided on a project and did quick sketches.
Most of the projects involved a wooden shape or box of some kind, so I demo’d the bandsaw. It’s great how easy it is to learn a language in context – I bet all those kids remember how to say cortar los dedos (cut off your fingers) from the safety demo. One hangup was that a line then formed behind the bandsaw, which wasn’t an efficient use of time. Next time I’d make sure the assistant both spoke Spanish and knew how to use the bandsaw, so we could break that up into groups. Or figure out a way to skip the bandsaw entirely.
As kids reached the moment when they needed to solder at different times, it was easy enough to show them in groups of two or three. The same went for drilling holes, putting in screws, etc.
This was a fun project. Perhaps the most important thing is to be iron-fisted about the no-English rule, and turn it into a sort of a game. How are you going to say that?