Build Weeks are a part of the rhythm of the yearly schedule at Long-View. Build Weeks periodically bridge academic blocks and open our schedule up to allow us to dive into special activities and challenges. Build Weeks help us grow intellectually, help us make connections between disciplines, give us a chance to reflect and set goals, and give us an opportunity to try new things.
During our first Build Week at the start of the year, our focus was on building our community, as well as developing the mindsets that serve Long-View learners. Our second Build Week, which just concluded, focused on pushing our skills in collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity and was specifically designed to deepen Long-View learners' understanding of computer science.
At the start of the week, Long-View kids broke into three and four-person teams, humorously named everything from the “Rainbow Monkeys” to “Team Sloth.” Then the teams were given a challenge: build and program a working computer using a Piper kit, which provides a Raspberry Pi, a breadboard, an SD card, laser-cut wood, a screwdriver, wires, switches, and buttons.
Under the leadership of an amazing guest teacher, Janet Couvillion, the teams were immediately immersed in building, with very minimal direction from the adults (not that any of us know how to build a computer anyways!). Our key goals were: empowering the children to take this challenge on themselves, providing them the opportunity to work in an intimate and highly collaborative situation, providing them a task rich with dead-ends, difficulties, and potential frustrations, and helping them stretch their critical thinking “muscles." We hoped to accelerate their understanding of the meaning of true collaboration, coach them toward more disciplined communication, and give them the chance to see what it felt like to create something from scratch.
After anywhere from 4 to 8 hours of hard work following a detailed blueprint, using screwdrivers, attaching wires, conference-calling Piper support, and learning about component parts like the breadboard, the SD card, HDMI cables, and Raspberry Pi, all teams had a working computer. It was hard to miss that moment, as the squeals of joy when the screen finally turned on brought smiles to all of our faces!
Next, teams moved into the electronics work, deepening their understanding of circuits, switches, polarity, and LED lights. Fueled by their expertise in Minecraft, the kids explored the Mars and Cheesetroid worlds with "Piperbot," practicing breadboarding and wiring, understanding wiring and pin positions, and exploring opening and closing circuits. Piper’s goal to “amplify creative confidence around computers and electronics” was quickly realized. As Long-View student Avi said, “I basically learned kids could build a computer. No one in my family could build a computer!”
Build Week ended with a reflection session and a guest appearance via Skype: Lieutenant Tommy from the Piper headquarters in San Francisco. As we Skyped with Tommy, we met engineers that work at Piper, saw some of the code they wrote, peeked at new products, and appreciated the hard work that went into making this cool product. And boy were these kiddos shouting when they heard the Piper team code in Python, just as we do at Long-View!