Intentionally Vague Projects (or, Leaving Room To Be Surprised)

Starting this school year with a new lab, in my first year at the helm, I’ve set off to make some easy projects for both my students and myself to get into the swing of things. Our first project this year was using the laser cutter to cut out wooden letters to create name plates. This is an easy to design, easy to cut project that is fairly quick (or so I thought).


While I could have put together a shiny, lego-esque manual of how to design, how to cut and how to assemble their name plates, I opted to offer little more in the way of expectations other than make a nametag. (Other than it had to be designed in Tinkercad and submitted in .SVG format to be laser cut.)


The cutting was a much slower process than I had anticipated. Spending 5-10 minutes with each girl introducing the software and getting the job running, and another 3-5 minutes waiting for the job to finish meant I could get 3-4 done in our 40 minute class time.  In the end, I took the time I was very graciously given to myself while the girls were out on class trips to fast track the remaining few.


The assembly proved to be the most interesting process. The task was to mount the letters to the board. I had given them the example of the one I had made, and sure enough most girls opted to follow my (boring) straight arrangement. However, some girls decided to break the mold. Offsetting the letters, coating the entire surface in wood glue, intentionally gluing pieces in ways that made them look like they had fallen over, etc.


My lack of clear instruction set has confused some of the students (as well as parents), but these name tags serve as a symbol of the girls’ personalities, and their mindset. They got to spend the first few weeks really ‘playing’ in the lab to make these nametags, and I’ve gotten to know the girls, and what they are all individually capable through the process.


The atmosphere for play, experimentation and freedom to make has been established, and well before the scaffolds that will be forming around them as our projects become more technical.


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