Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) was mentioned in a recent discussion on the PTSOS email list. I decided to contact RAFT to see if they could support PTSOS in some way. RAFT Site Manager Ofelia Delgadillo soon replied to my email inquiry with several ways RAFT could help PTSOS, our program for new physics teachers. I won't mention specifics here because I don't want to give away any of the surprises for those coming to the 9/17 PTSOS workshop (registration is still open). I do want to describe my experience visiting the San Jose RAFT location and how they can support physics teachers wanting to do more hands-on activities.
I easily found RAFT on Ridder Park Drive because it is a little past the Santa Clara County Office of Education. I went to the membership desk and joined. The $40 membership fee might be an obstacle to some teachers but it is only $25 to renew. If you can gather a group of 10, the new membership price is only $20 each. Many teachers should be able to get their school to pay for a membership. Either way, it will probably pay for itself on your first visit. As I waited for them to complete my registration, I noticed several teachers making use of the teacher "maker space" called the Green Room. It contains a lot of the equipment teachers need but don't always have access to like laminating machines, book binders, and button makers. After getting my membership card, I went back outside to get a shopping cart.
My first goal was to see if they had some whiteboards for modelling activities. I had to resist looking at all the lab kits as a passed through the front aisles, more on those later. I soon found several boxes full of framed 2' x 3' whiteboards donated by Silicon Valley companies. They were only $5 each. You can make your own for less money but some teachers would find that difficult and/or time consuming. The frames made them look more professional and sturdier. Many still had writing from the last time they were used. Who knows, maybe there is a billion dollar idea still on one of them! I picked out a class set of 10 of the lighter ones and navigated my now loaded cart through the back aisles. These contained art and office supplies, books, extra chachkies from corporate events, and numerous random surplus items like old VHS tape containers and biotech vials. A more creative teacher could work wonders with many of these items but I loaded up on sidewalk chalk.
In the very back is an area where volunteers work. They sort through donated items, update inventory, and package and price items. This would be an ideal place for high school students to get some community service hours. I also noticed the volunteers were assembling the lab kits that drew my attention when I entered. I decided it was time to take a look at those.
The lab kits covered many areas of science but many would be perfect for elementary, middle, and high school physics students. Each kit contains everything you need to build a hands-on device including detailed illustrated instructions, NGSS standards, "To Do and Notice" instructions à la Exploratorium, a description of the background science, and links where you can learn more. I saw many variations of old standbys like roll-back cans, hoverpucks, Benham's disks, and simple motors. There were a few intriguing ones that I was unfamiliar with like roller racers and static merry-go rounds. You can purchase single kits or lab packs of 10. The single kits averaged about $1 and the 10 packs $10. I had to restrain myself from buying them all and managed to leave with 6 of the 10-packs covering a variety of physics topics. Here are some pictures I took of the lab kit displays:
RAFT offers is professional development. I have not participated in it but a quick look at their website shows they have a useful program worth exploring. They have scheduled workshops and will customize training for your school or district.
2 RAFT locations in the lucky San Francisco Bay Area and one in Denver, Colorado. Sadly, the Sacramento location has closed. That is hard to believe knowing that the top supporters of education in California, the governor and the state legislature, spend a lot of time there. Perhaps the Sacramento RAFT will return in the future. If you are within driving distance of any RAFT location I highly recommend you plan a visit soon. If you are not, you are in luck, you can order many of their items online. I noticed that there were over 100 of the lab kits available plus many more items in their online store. If you are having trouble visualizing this amazing place, here is a video tour:
My only criticism of RAFT would be to maybe get a better membership card machine: