AltSchool Hub

A Sneak Peek at our Summer Maker Labs

Posted by Kristin Uhlemeyer

Jun 17, 2016 9:33:05 AM


I want my students to walk away from my classes with more questions than when they entered. My goal is to engage their curiosity, inspire exploration, and empower them with the skills and ability to find the answers on their own. Every student should leave the classroom excited to learn more and looking forward to the next school day.

Helping students to start building, tinkering, and creating gives them a chance to guide their own learning and be fully engaged with the subject matter. At the end of the day, Maker culture is motivated by curiosity and fun, making it the perfect model for shared student-led classroom experiences.

The Summer @ AltSchool Maker Labs are full of exciting projects, recycled and reused materials, Lego Robotics, Snap Circuits, drop cloths, and more. I am definitely not afraid to get a little dirty and create a few explosions. In the immortal words of Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Summer is the perfect opportunity to embrace the Maker mentality and the process over the product. I love that we can focus on one topic in depth and allow for extended, uninterrupted project time. I can give students more time to experiment and experience the glory of failure, which provides diving boards for new learning opportunities.

The curriculum is made up of a compilation of lessons from other teachers and inspirations from Stanford and the Exploratorium. I’ve tried these lessons with students and we continue to refine them (being a teacher is just like being a Maker!). AltSchool has provided amazing professional development opportunities which have greatly influenced me as an educator. These experiences have helped me define my ideas of the Maker philosophy and how it can translate to AltSchool’s summer curriculum.


Kristin Uhlemeyer is a full-time AltSchool educator who also develops the curriculum for Summer Maker Lab Sessions. This is her third year teaching Summer @ AltSchool. She previously taught summer programs at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and was a counselor for Camp Invention.

Interested in joining Kristin and the rest of our amazing educators this summer? Two-week summer sessions run from June 20-August 12 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Brooklyn. Learn more about our Maker Lab sessions including Robotics, Game Design, and Design Thinking.

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Topics: Meet the Team, Summer, Classroom Stories

Design Thinking for the Young Innovator: A Photo Essay

Posted by Sarah Rothenberg and Mitzi Mapa Contes

Jul 22, 2015 10:00:00 AM

What does it mean for a 5-year old to build a prototype? Or how about conduct “user research” to inform her creations?

Design thinking is increasingly becoming more en vogue as a teaching tool in the classroom, but often times teachers introduce it to older students: middle schoolers and up. The truth is, the design approach is valuable for even the youngest ages! Children love to build and tinker, and design thinking helps structure their creativity, while developing additional communication skills in the process.

At our summer session in 2015, Design Thinking Maker Lab for Lower Elementary, students ages 5-7 explored the five stages of design thinking to develop their own projects. From building empathy to learning the fun of iteration, here are three core takeaways and skills young students learn through exploring the design thinking process from beginning to end.

1. Building empathy and communication skills

Design thinking in an early childhood classroom is about building connections with each other and the environment. The beginning of the design process— building empathy— helps students connect with people, understand, and define their needs. How can you design something that one, two, or many people can use? In line with the design process, we start with interviews to deeply understand the people (or creatures) for whom you want to build your product, and then move to defining what those possible solutions could be. For example, after learning that his partner like to swim, one student decided to design and prototype a pair of goggles.

2. Prototyping, testing, failing, and iterating

Design thinking is all about celebrating failure and iteration, because that means you’re yet another step closer to a working solution! Built into the design process is an infinite loop of prototyping and testing. Failing and iterating in a safe setting helps teach a healthy growth mindset: students can derive learnings from their mistakes, instead of worrying about performing perfectly.

3. Taking pride in the process, not the product  

At the end of camp, kids don’t take home the perfect boat or lighthouse. Instead, they’ve learned that by experimenting with 10 types of materials and 15 types of adhesive, they finally got a boat that floats or a lighthouse that actually lights up. This way their final products also embody a series of learnings and growth, which is even evident in the way they describe their creations. The process of building empathy, discovering, tinkering, and iterating removes pressure on performance, and instead emphasizes hard work and determination. Ultimately, it’s a healthy process they can apply towards a variety of projects and challenges they encounter in the future.

 Registration is now open for Summer @ AltSchool 2016!

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Topics: Summer, Classroom Stories

Summer Camp Highlights from Educators and Engineers

Posted by Sandy Naing

Aug 7, 2014 12:54:00 PM

What’s it like to create an imaginative experience for children to think and play like designers?

Our educators and engineers had a ton of fun guiding students in creating sensational pieces of (pretend) candy during the inaugural summer camp program, “Wonky Willard’s Candy Factory.”

The summer camp teaching team created opportunities for students to explore tastes, smells, and textures. They helped students develop working prototypes with hands-on and digital tools, like CubeTeam and 3-D printing. They also aided students in video editing and production to create commercials of their creations. 


In addition, the camp was a great way for new educators to work alongside existing teachers and AltSchool engineers.  

Here’s what Kristin Uhlemeyer, a K-1 teacher, had to say about the experience:

“One of the best ways to get to know your teaching team is to actually teach together!  Summer camp was perfect for team building.  I also loved that students, new and old, collaborated over the summer. I think that, for the kids, having the chance to experiment with new technology, try creative ideas, and iterate on designs has become synonymous with AltSchool.”

Another engineer shared this with us:

“The summer camp gave me a chance to step out of my everyday role as an engineer to teach elementary school students about 3-D printing and computer-aided design. It was wonderful to influence so many young minds, get wrapped up in their energy, and watch them transform ideas into things.”

And, lastly, Jay Ho, mechanical engineer, said:

"I was thrilled to teach kids about what I do as a designer and builder, but I also experienced first-hand how the products we work on are used by our teachers and students. As we filmed our commercial to advertise the "candy" created, I laughed to the point of collapsing the kids."

Below are more pictures from the camp:







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Topics: AltSchool Innovation, Dogpatch Classroom, Summer

Summer Camp Week One: Introducing Wonky Willard and Candy Design

Posted by Sandy Naing

Jul 9, 2014 4:02:00 PM

WW8After months of planning, it is finally here - AltSchool’s first week of summer camp! This week is dedicated to creating extraordinary experiences for K-1 students in design thinking and engineering.

We checked in with Sarah Rothenberg, K-1 educator, to give us the scoop on what the kids have been up to so far. Their challenge is to prototype, design, build, and present their own mock-up of a virtual candy store using digital and hands-on tools.

On Monday, campers learned to think like designers. AltSchool teachers and Wonky Willard (aka Slade Maurer, AltSchool’s engineering director) probed students to consider the texture, size, shape, and sensory experience (sweet, salty, bitter) of their own candy designs.

Then, students practiced creating designs using and the 3D printer. is a painting and modeling program that students use to imagine and build their candy store before printing it out in 3D. The printer creates 3D “candy” from a one-dimensional candy design.

“It’s really exciting to watch the students go through the design process of exploring their own tastes in candy. It’s so fun to see how diverse their tastes are. Children are coming up with candy designs I never would have chocolate covered cotton candy. This is what designers do when they are given complete freedom to be inspired. That’s how the best inventions are made,” Sarah says.

At the end of the week, students will present their project showcase to family and friends. Afterwards, students will have exclusive access to their shared virtual candy factory.

Next week (July 14-18), we will host upper elementary students in grades 2-5. The last week of our summer camp (July 21-25) is for middle school students.

***If you have a middle schooler who would like to attend the AltSchool summer camp, it’s not too late! We have just a couple spots left. Learn more details and register here.




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Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Summer