Introducing the STEM PK Angle Tools

constructing01very important:
Every child is unique – the path to learning
is not the same for all.
Please revise these guidelines as needed
to suit them to your individual child.
Thank you!

General Guidelines

Only introduce vocabulary as new concepts become intuitively understood. Better not to rush with words: you  want to avoid memorization without understanding. One of these days I will attempt to go through the whole process with some child, using no words at all – remains to be seen…

On that same sense, do not worry about a complete immediate understanding of each concept – this is a “construction of knowledge” + “agricultural” approach – provide good soil, open sun, water, and the structure to pull into, and they will amaze you as they grow and flourish!

For your information we will give you, as end notes, some background of the many things that the child is learning that are NOT part of the “official” Lesson. Good for you to know, but, again, they are not the focus – the paced and guided exploration and individual engagement is what you want, because that is what opens understanding, and, ultimately, learning.

Most importantly, never forget that “teaching” is not at all the same as “learning”. Make it possible and enjoyable to learn – you and your child will accomplish much more that way than by any amount of teaching you do…

Materials in your set

STEM PK Angles Tools
STEM PK Angles Tools
  • 3 single-angle black-orange angle vertices
  • 4 single-angle black-yellow angle vertices
  • 5 single-angle black-green angle vertices
  • 6 single-angle black-blue angle vertices
  • 6 four-angle black-4-color angle vertices
  • 4 color geometric shapes – triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon
  • 6 segments (that is our name for the straws – you receive extra, as these get easily damaged, but you seldom use more than 6 at a time)
  • felt working mat
  • presentation tray

To avoid loss of attention and focus, I suggest to keep all materials out of sight of the child until you use them.


Orange (three sides)

Prepare your materials on the tray:

  • the orange triangle
  • 3 segments
  • the 3 black-orange angle vertices
  • cover it all with the mat.

Place the tray in your designated work area, not between you and the child but to one side. Some people prefer to do “work” on a table, some do it on the floor, etc.  I have no suggestion except to set a routine and reasonably stick to it.

Set the work mat in front of the child.

Place the orange triangle  on the mat generally in the center. Holding it with one finger of one hand, follow the contour with one finger of the other. Carefully (sharp!) touch each vertex.

While still holding the triangle with one finger, motion or verbalize for the child to follow the contour and touch the corners. If necessary, very gently guide the child as he tries, though try to avoid intruding too much – better slowly and self-paced than fast empty success.

Release the triangle. If necessary help the child to hold it in place with one finger, and use the other hand to follow the sides and touch corners.

If the child is focused in the triangle, you may hold it from the mat and hand it to the child for further manipulation. Touching the flat surface from side to side is a good thing, but not necessary yet.

Ideally the child will imitate what you did, but do not be worried or concerned if he does not fully, as long as his attention is there to some extent. If the child pays no attention at all, as in not even touching the triangle by himself, he is not ready. Try again in a couple hours, or days. Same if his actions are clearly not conducive to a lesson, like biting the triangle, or using it to hit the work surface.

Now gently ask for the triangle and place it back on the mat, but to one side. Neatly place on the mat central area the angle vertices, then the segment. If and only if the child asks what they are or uses other words do use the words “segment” for the straws and “angle vertex” (or just “angle”, if it must, but better if you go all the way to “angle vertex”) for the hub connectors, or help the child get used to those words. Otherwise just move on without calling them anything. Just avoid naming them “straws” or “pieces” or anything such.

Pick up one of the angle vertices. Pick up one of the segments. Gently attach the segment to the black connector. It is somewhat important that you do use the black connector and not a color connector, reasons explained later. Place the assembly back on the mat. Motion or verbally encourage the child to proceed.

Now comes the most important part. Usually the child will pick up each of the remaining angle vertices and attach one segment to the black connector. Or maybe not. After each angle vertex has received one connector, there often is a pause. For me, this is the most marvelous moment of all – the child is reflecting, the first time in his life, about this curious task he is supposed to do, which he did, but  something else is possible – here are the other connectors with nothing, and the segments still have one unused ending… At some moment the child will have a glorious “aha!” moment, and will attach that segment end to one of the color connectors, and proceed to complete all of those, and to his surprise, notice that here is a triangle!

I strongly suggest not to try to rush this. If the child does not follow through for a few minutes, gently guide him to another, different activity and try again in a couple days maybe. You absolutely DO NOT want to intervene or cut through or do it for the child – If you do, you might feel you completed the lesson, and you will be right. YOU completed the lesson, but the learning process DID NOT HAPPEN.

Of course there are individual variations, for example the younger child who has seen an older sibling do it already. To avoid that, I respectfully would suggest to tackle this lesson with at least some minor amount of privacy, but, again, don’t make a big deal out of that.

The process of transferring mentally from one paradigm – one segment fits one angle vertex – to the other – each angle vertex has TWO segments – is too valuable to lose or rush. The third one –  vertices and segments form geometric shapes – is useful, but not as momentous as the previous one

Actually, there is is the “deep down” lesson: an angle is the figure formed by two segments meeting in one vertex (Wikipedia article). If you get that intuitively, angles will be your friends and you will have a much easier time with them from now on.

Let the child manipulate the triangle he has completed, then gently help him disconnect the parts, put them back on the tray, cover it with the work mat, put the whole away.

Later, let the child do the lesson by himself – do not worry at all that he seems to pay little attention to the orange plastic triangle – HE knows that there is something powerful happening regarding those segments and angle vertices! Maybe, if it hasn’t happened before, you can introduce those words, but you do not need to, actually I wouldn’t, unless the child does have a need to use them.

Yellow (four sides)

Now we will go for the four-sided shape, the square.

Same as above – just remove the Orange set from reach, and follow through with the Yellow set, of course this time with four segments

Green (five sides)

A variation to the previous two lessons: leave on the tray the plastic figures for Three and for Four. Make no comment about those, just follow through the lesson.

This time the lesson will probably go quite fast, the routine has been established. Good moment to work on other abstractions, like those fancy words. Angle, vertex, vertices, segment, side, face, triangle, square, pentagon… Some children enjoy enormously handling new words, and the strange plural form of “vertex” might be a source of enjoyment. Same as anything else. please  no forcing what doesn’t build in a reasonably healthy dynamic.Don’t forget it, “normal” people don’t do angles until 3rd Grade anyway… no need to rush!

(Author’s note: I will be adding to this later. need to catch up with my damaged freezer…)



STEM, a framework for understanding

To arrive at the knowledge“, René Descartes posits as his Second Precept amongst those Rules that he has discoveredto divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution“.(note below)

STEM is a simple thing only to the uninformed or happily carefree. To the rest of us, complication.

I intend to follow M. Descartes’ Precept in my effort to arrive at a useful knowledge and understanding of STEM, and to share it with you. To that end, here is my first take by dividing in three each of the 4 Arts or disciplines.

STEM Arts, each described by its 3 most relevant attributes
STEM Arts, each described by its 3 most relevant attributes (click to enlarge)

* My grade examination for the French Language and Literature University degree was on “Le Discours de la Méthode” of good old René Descartes. Memorable useless tidbit: first time in my life I ran through the ink of an entire pen in one sitting.

Kindness to strangers, and even more so to friends

@ATXinventor at AMMF

The picture here is a mini of one that was taken by a dear friend and much respected Hackbat colleague, Clio Dunn.
It is maybe the only picture that I have portraying me at the Austin Mini Maker Faire.

Were it not for her kindness (which she actually did very quietly, I had to wait until next day at Re:Make to thank her), I would have not a single pic of myself there.
By my side is another dear friend and Roboteer colleague, The Robot Group treasurer Wolf Dilworth, who left the TRG table for a few minutes to check on @ATXinventor.

Good times

Now, it is rather obvious from the pic that @ATXinventor is having a jolly good time. OTOH, @ATXinventor had had 1 hour of sleep the previous night, had been again frustrated beyond words in building the 19-foot geodesic dome (which didn’t get completed this time either LOL) And was starting to wrap up his usual junkyard. No joy there.

But, that one hour of rest was while trying to complete at the last minute and through the night his Patent #2 application. Eventually it gets all packed and sent that morning (very simple process if you do one of these a week, otherwise VERY complicated!). Then email arrives saying

USPTO received your submission at 10:25 ET on 03MAY2014.

@ATXinventor’s several improvements to #Geodesic #Domes are now Patent Pending, yay! Which is a good thing, because they were due to be presented at a public event at AMMF that very day… (up to then I had to have people sign NDAs if they were participating in building it)

I was late to the Maker Faire, the design needs still to be improved  (opportunity for more patents! triple ROFL!). I had a total, complete blast, also very much because whomever was assigned to this particular prime spot did not show up and Kami let me have it (Kami has no idea how grateful I am. She won herself a fan forever).

Then, hmm, how will I say it, this was a learning opportunity (code words for saying that I made many mistakes) – but that is another story.

Back to the kindness.

It didn’t stop there, two other Hackbats, Chad and Vlad showed up on their own to help me pack, which was done in a jiffy – my “official” helper being sick the previous night and couldn’t come.

The next day was Re:Make for us. Among the mistakes I made at Austin Maker Faire was not even taking one look at the rest of the exhibits. I learned from that mistake. As I always encourage my students, “be original! when you make mistakes, don’t just repeat yours or mine! be creative even in your fails!”. This time I gave myself some time to walk around the place, right before closing.

The idea was to network, see if someone was in the same kind of wavelength. In other words, look after #1, my own interests.

It sort of worked out, but

What I should have done, and the whole point about this post, is to have gone around to EVERY booth, especially those manned by only one person (meaning, that person likely had no respite and couldn’t go anywhere the whole day), and at the very least take a picture and exchange contact info and then make sure I get them on my twitter and whatever else. It wouldn’t have cost me much – but then, who knows, maybe I would have made somebody’s day be a bit more special, or a LOT more special, as it is for me now that I have the picture that Clio took. I might even have found someone who needs 20 domes right away, and who had no idea that a Master Builder was in the premises – and local too!

I would have made friends, some might have reciprocated and set me in THEIR twitters (as you should!) and that would have improved my networking and the kickstarter and stuffs.

Yet, the most important thing, I would have raised the level of empathy in the Palmer that day for at least 23%, give or take 6%.

Other exhibitors looked tired – they might have had even less rest than I did, probably were not riding the kind of emotional high wave that I was, after all day listening to parents, visitors and friends tell me what a genius I was, how wonderful is the stuff I make (I always mention the laser cutting was done at the ATX Hackerspace), and, best.ever.words anybody starting a small business can hear, please please please can I buy some? (sorry, not yet, was too busy preparing, but let’s connect, did you get my info? here’s a card)

Yes, some exhibitors looked (almost) as happy as I was, but others didn’t.
I could have made it nicer for them, help them see that they have one more person that cares. I missed that chance.

OK, lesson learned. I will do my best to (hmm, words of the Scout Promise, how appropriate) to care also for others – do for them what I wish were done for me (that also sounds like a quote from somewhere, anybody knows where it comes from? :-) )

Bottom line:

BTW, I need your kindness, everybody does. Add me to your Twitter, RePost or at least Favorite something I have there – neither cost you anything and the later doesn’t even “noise” your feed, but something valuable as I try to build “brand” and “image” and street cred.

Do likewise for other people. Whenever you can, help raise empathy everywhere – probably the best use of anybody’s time as we go along as a community. Don’t expect people will reciprocate, but some will – for example, I add to my feed pretty much everyone that adds me to theirs.

Adding people to Twitter is no big deal. Of course, if you can, do more, yet, every little bit counts, and builds us up as the stewards of this Earth, together.