Wednesday, October 30, 2013

3D Print Your Heart Out

We have a new library, and we have a new toy to go with it:  a 3D printer!

(A 3D printer, for those of you not in the know, prints objects in three dimensions.  It prints using a plastic filament that comes in spools; the plastic melts and is reformed into objects that you create using online software like Google Sketchup or Blender.)

Lizz attended a Maker's Space workshop last spring, and since then, a 3D printer has been high on our list of Things We Want.  When the new library opened, we did some online price comparisons and discussed the possibility of the purchase with our school director.  We were soon allowed to get a 3D printer--so long as the first thing we printed was a cat.

No problem.

We selected the Solidoodle 3D printer, 3rd generation, based in part on the recommendation of our summer student worker, who has one of his own and boasted of the ease with which he could make iPhone cases and keychains for his friends.  The Solidoodle is bare-bones and industrial-looking, but it's affordable and we liked how clearly you could see the way it was put together and the way it worked.  We ordered two 50-foot spools of plastic filament, one black and one white.

We were very excited when it arrived in the mail.

Solidoodle:  Made in Brooklyn, NYC

Isn't it beautiful?
Sean knows how to use instructions.
We tried it out immediately.  It took some tinkering, and some 3D printer fails, but eventually we got our first object (the director's requested cat) printing away.  Lizz did some research and realized hairspray could help the plastic stick to the base; eventually we raised the temperature of the bed for even more successful printing, sans hairspray.

The spool of plastic filament attaches to the back of the printer; the extruder pulls the filament, heats it to melting point, and squeezes it out again (kind of like a toothpaste tube) to build layers of plastic that eventually become the final product.  The 3D printers is connected to a laptop with software the directs the printer's movements.  The software shows the number of total layers, the number of layers currently built, and an estimation for how long the print job will take.  The heat bed is 8 inches by 8 inches; most of our 3D objects take between two and five hours to complete.
The base of the Upper School Director's plastic cat.
When we have the 3D printer going, students will stop and watch it for minutes on end.  It's been the showcase of library open houses, prospective student tours, conferences, and curriculum night.  We've mostly printed goofy objects using files found in free galleries online, but we've had a few students print original objects as well.  That's how we've promoted the 3D printer:  Anyone who designs an original object can print it.

Students minds are blown as Sean demos the 3D printer.
A student watches an original design take shape.
It's a t-rex head mounted like a wall trophy.
We have a few classes express interest for future lessons as well, with the Video Game Design and Development class planning to print the digital characters they're currently designing for their video games.  Curriculum connections are especially obvious with the science (3D models of molecules and body parts) and art (3D models of sculpture and ceramics) departments.

We have great plans for the 3D printer.

3D octopus fail; the base came unattached from the heat bed, causing the plastic
to spill all over the place before we finally noticed and killed the print job.

A successfully completed 3D octopus waves "hello."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Our First Library Author Visit

A few weeks ago, we got an email from Addendum Books in St. Paul.  They were looking for a school to host a visiting young adult fantasy author, and were we interested?

Yes.  Yes, we were very interested.

We were also immediately impressed with Addendum Books, which we hadn't heard of (they've been in business about a year) but which seemed to be attracting some very high-profile authors:  Holly Black, Jay Asher, Libba Bray, Patrick Ness, Lois Lowry, and many others.  What's unique about Addendum is that it is a young adult bookstore--not a bookstore with a young adult section, not a children's bookstore that carries some young adult titles, but a bookstore (albeit a small one) devoted entirely to young adult literature.  For this reason alone, we were instant fans.

Addendum's visiting author this time was Cinda Williams Chima, author of two young adult fantasy series (The Heir Chronicles and The Seven Realms series).  Cinda would give a presentation about her writing and Addendum would provide books for our students to purchase and for Cinda to sign.  After a couple weeks of emailing back and forth, we had thirty students (mostly ninth graders) ready to participate and Cinda scheduled to come over a Thursday mid-morning lunch break.

The big day arrived.  Lizz and Sean and I had made our first visit to Addendum the evening before, to purchase a couple copies of Cinda's books for the library (one of which would be raffled off to one lucky student during the event).  We spent the morning setting up tables and chairs for the event, and we were surprised to find that we were a little nervous!  Eleven o'clock arrived; Cinda was late!  The students were restless.  Lizz tried to keep them focused while I waited at the door for our author to arrive.  Then she did arrive!  And she plunged right into her presentation and everything was wonderful!  Several kids in the audience were genuine fans of Cinda's work; you could see the excitement on their faces.  The kids asked great questions at the conclusion of Cinda's talk (our favorite query was about killing off your characters, a la Game of Thrones).  And even though the lunch break was next (kids love lunch), several stayed after to talk to Cinda, buy books, and get them signed.

Author visit success!  And it looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Addendum Books. 


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

We're Back! With a Brand New Library!

Apologies for our long absence!  We've been renovation and rebuilding our space to create a brand new library, and it is beautiful.

The new library reading room; we are particularly fond of the big turquoise chairs.
In case you forgot, here's what the library has looked like for the last thirty years:

The old library:  lots of dark wood and undefined, poorly used space.
In redesigning the library, we wanted to take into account how we were using the space, and how we wanted to use the space.  The library has always been a popular spot, with classes meeting there and students working in the library all day.  But there was no separate space for quiet study.  Our reference desk was a glorified desk, with table shoved against it to make it big enough.  Our offices were separated from the library in another room, making it hard to observe what was going on in the library and hard to get work done without being interrupted by the many people who would wander through during the day.  When multiple classes wanted to use the space, they fought for enough room to work separately, and when they worked together there was little space for anyone else in the library.  Originally built in 1980, our thirty-year-old library was simply not able to fully function as the collaborative, common space that is today's school library.    

So we wanted a library that did reflect how our teachers and students use the library.  Last year, we attempted to create a "classroom" space off to one side by moving and rearranging shelving and tables.  In the new design, two actual classrooms were built into the library for that exact purpose. 

The Danielson Room features a glass wall for light and visibility.
Whiteboards line the walls  of the Danielson Room while our portrait of Abe Lincoln oversees all.
The Danielson Room (above) is a dedicated library classroom.  Two walls of whiteboards, two projectors, and tables and chairs for more than thirty mean we can teach two sections of classes in this space, which is set apart from the rest of the library by a wall of glass doors and windows.  During tutorial blocks, this rooms fills our need for quiet study space. 

The media classroom has whiteboards lining the walls, four projectors, and a large screen TV.
The Melamed Media Studio (above) is a classroom designed for our media arts classes:  computer science (new this year!), digital filmmaking, and music technology.  The classroom is chock-full of projectors, plus an interactive large-screen TV for presentations from teachers and students.

We also have two study rooms for about five students each.  We're not reserving these rooms; they're being used on a "first come first served" basis.  The highlight of these study rooms is the whiteboard paint, so students can literally draw on the walls. 

Our two new study rooms, with the giant projector for the Carlson Commons between.
Our new reference desk is a work of art.  Conceived by the architects who designed the new space, the reference desk is multi-tiered with lots of workspace.  There's a separate desk for the self-checkout station (complete with fancy book drop slot and cart, ooh la la) and our patrons are meant to walk between the two and interact with us anywhere, anytime. 

Helping students and teachers at the new reference desk.
Sean plays with the scanner at the reference desk.
Since we have a 1:1 laptop program for all our students and staff, the library is also home to tech support for those laptops as well as for projectors, smartboards, and other technology that teachers use in the classroom.  The new space has a workroom and a "genius bar" type of desk for our fantastic tech, Gary, to work at and be more present in the space.

Gary at the new tech bar, with the workroom behind him.
Gary repairs a record number of laptops at once.
Gary's son visits and shows us to write on the windows.
We also have a craft table which features, at the moment, our brand new 3D printer (more on that in later post!).  We kept the old library card catalogs and use them to store office supplies (one on each side of the craft table)--and to add just a touch of tradition to our new sleek modern library.

The craft table with the 3D printer; the workroom and our new office are behind.
And what of the books, you ask?  Despite appearances to the contrary, we have all our old books.  But the shelf space is considerably more compacted, on new white metal shelves, with room for the collection to grow.

The new stacks.
There's also a cozy little reading area tucked behind the shelves, with single desks at the end of each shelf for quiet individual study.

This little nook behind the stacks has already been adopted by our Library Club.
The library is on the second floor of this wing of the school; below us, the science wing also underwent a renovation and redesign.  The two physics classrooms moved up to join us in the library wing, and the floors are connected by a common space called the Carlson Commons which features an impressive staircase with stadium seating and a giant projector screen.

The Carlson Commons as seen from the science wing, downstairs below the library.
The staircase has become a popular place for students to work and hang out.
The grand thing about the new library is that our students have been using the space almost exactly as we designed.  The lightweight furniture can be moved and rearranged easily for group work and for after-school events.  Teachers are reserving the Danielson Room on a daily basis, and the study rooms are almost never empty.  The Carlson Commons staircase is the heart of the new space--we've held faculty meetings and grade meetings here, used the space to screen current events like the Nobel Conference, and it's become a popular space for students to work or just hang out.  

We really love our pretty new library.