Making Music, Teaching English with Popsicle Sticks

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Making Music, Teaching English with Popsicle Sticks


Ian Thacker teaches conversational English at a girl’s high school in Taiwan. But his students learn much more than English. Ian is a consumate maker. His is a veteran 3D modeler and illustrator and he knows his way around a circuit board. He’s also the prop builder for the school’s drama department. So rather than sit around with his students and chat in English, he makes things with them–art projects, toy boats and cars, key rings, lamps. The students learn English through the act of making.

“I don’t use books,” he says. “My curriculum is ‘what should we build next week?’ I let my students do things hands-on.”

Popsicle sticks meet electronics.

He blogs about many of the projects at DIY family. True to the blog’s name, it includes great projects from his talented wife and son, too. One of the school projects that caught my eye was a popsicle stick-encased stereo amplifier with speakers built from used CD cases. Ian has to pay for supplies–popsicle sticks and the CD cases make for low-cost building materials.

One of his students wanted a cheap stereo to take to college, so he designed one for easy construction, affordability, and cool design. It’s all of that. The project is built around a $33 8-watt amp. Blue LEDs give it a cool glow at night. Ian had four students without prior electronics experience build their own and he said they did so with ease.

“It’s a very simple project to make,” he says.

If you need some inspiration, take a look what the final product looks like. It’s a beauty. Ian drew up schematics of his build just for MAKE if you’d like to give it a try yourself.


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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook