Tag Archives: ned


16 Apr

PEN continued testing our solar lamp curriculum by teaching this lesson series every Saturday for two months to a group of local high schools through the HSSP program: http://esp.mit.edu/learn/HSSP/index.html

It was a fun group of students to work with. Some highlights include: one kid mentioning lasers in every single class, hearing them come up with new uses for their devices (without prompting), certain kids developing a love (or borderline obsession) with soldering, hearing them accurately teach each other how solar cells work, seeing them get excited about various research ideas going on at MIT (transparent solar cells, paper solar cells, etc). They’re a bright bunch of kids!

Props to Maddie for being such a dedicated teacher, and Ned for his excellent circuit knowledge. I had a great time helping out along the way.

Here are a bunch of pictures:


teaching about batteries


circuit + solar cell + batteries!


battery holder



PENed Reorganization

29 Dec

Ned, again, to drop a quick note that we’ve reorganized pen-ed.com to fit the new style of lessons, and are in the process of putting up our developed lessons. If you’re reading this, we’d love to get your feedback on the site; there’s a new page for “features requests” where you can let us know what it’s missing. (If you have trouble finding that page, leave a comment on this post.)

Solar Lamp Booklet

29 Dec

The business of term ended, not knowing what else to do, I learned some InDesign and turned some of the excellent and tested solar lessons that everyone’s been working on this term into a small booklet for teachers. This is the web version, if you’re looking for a quick preview.

The original audience for the booklet was a group in the D-Lab I class who were looking to make solar lamps, so the background and lessons contained jump right into the optical design of lamps, and the design of a solar charging circuit.

(if you’d like to print one, here’s the print version: when printed with short-edge flip, it should come out ready to be folded into a 16-page booklet)

a little scheming

21 Sep

A fair while ago I had an excellent meeting with Alec Resnick; high time, then, to type up my notes from that. Since I wrote them on the subway back from Davis, they’re all out of order; this’ll be fun.

The little schemer is an old book/textbook for learning lisp, but what’s incredible about it (and useful as we consider how to motivate students to learn on their own) is the way it draws you into exploring lisp and forming a mental model just by reading it. The format is simple: the left column is a short, unambiguous question, while the right holds the answer and a brief explanation. The questions start with basic building blocks, like “is ‘a’ an atom?” [yes] and “what is the car of l, where l is (((hotdogs)) (and) (pickle) relish)”  [((hotdogs))], and the question-and-answer format make the reader form and continually test an internal model of the programming language. By the end of the first chapter, all of the axiomatic building blocks have been learned; the other chapters use them to build basic recursive function that then build other functions, and so on. What amazed me about the book is how much reading it feels like exploration, rather than learning; sure, it’s also very funny, but reading it is more like playing a game within scheme than it is like reading a textbook.

One of the things Alec said was that he’s seen many educational sites missing the feedback elements and student focus of PENed. As we start to write lessons for TTI students, we’re facing some difficulties on the feedback front; another note here raises the idea of making a TTI-specific wiki site that would automatically sync with an MIT-hosted one; if we can do this, then the idea of live in-lesson feedback from a webpage becomes much more feasible. Also, could we put a local copy of wikipedia, or at least the important articles, on there?

Alec raised an interesting question to think about when writing and planning material: what do the students not need to know, or have a good grasp of? What ends should be left loose?

Another question on a similar note: can we design lessons and experiments such that the fail in interesting ways? They could be designed to fail from the beginning (puzzle circuits, or they could be designed such that common mistakes are easily checked: a circuit, let’s say, where putting your 7805 regulator in backwards causes an LED to light.

Continuing the thread of puzzle circuits (which could be things, already built, that require a circuit to be placed on them to make them work), we talked about how bounding a design challenge (limiting the allowances that the student has) can make it less intimidating and friendlier to trial and error.

He also pointed out Star Simpson’s fuzzy circuits (plush circuit components that snapped together), which, like the many other circuit building blocks, are a way of reducing the mechanical requirements to building a circuit (especially with the fab lab’s primarily surface mount components) as well as bounding the problem, as mentioned above.

My last note here wonders whether the vark.com model (people ask questions, which get directed to relevant users, who answer them) could work well with the SF PEN club, and as a general way for us to let MIT friends help PEN: they could answer questions they know well.

Introducing Ned

4 Sep

Hi! I’m Edward Burnell; despite currently studying mechanical engineering at MIT, I’m the PEN webmaster — so it goes. Let me know if anything breaks.

The ideas behind PEN were sort of floating in everybody’s minds when we started it, and maybe they’ll tell you how they got involved, but in my case I can assign blame to Grace and Anna.

Grace and I went to Ghana in January 2010 as part of the D-Lab class to (among other things) teach saltwater battery lessons. Astonished by the impact they had — seemingly because they used only familiar materials to do the mysterious action of lighting an LED — we wanted to develop this idea further.

Thus did Anna and I go to Ghana for the summer of 2010 to teach ‘energy lessons’ using local materials. Staying at the Takoradi Technical Institute, and teaching students in the Fablab, we saw a lack of design and experimentation in the curriculum, and responded with improvisational science and engineering. In the last week, when students design and built solar panels, installed them in a nearby village without electricity, and explained their use, we saw the potential of this kind of education.

So Anna looked at the IDEAS contest, we all fell together through our interest in a different engineering education, and here we are.