There often comes a time in my class, especially with my 8th grade, where students get restless and feel like they haven’t done anything ‘hands on’ in weeks. Sometimes that’s true, we’ll be buried in our PCs learning more CAD concepts or working on project reports, and sometimes that isn’t all the true. Either way, there comes a point where I know we need to get tools into the kids hands.
Wrapping up my first year teaching Project Lead the Way’s Design and Modeling course, my students had completed most of the curriculum. They had gone through sketching, into CAD modeling and had become very capable communicators of their ideas. I wanted to create a project that was fast, that they could quickly model in CAD and then fabricate as soon as they had a clear CAD model.
…in a bit of a selfish need, I also knew I wanted to get rid of nearly a pallet of 2x4s that were taking valuable woodshop square footage. I think they were from an old catapult project, but I honestly have no idea. There were a relic that came with the shop when I came through the door.
So the design challenge was simple. Students could fabricate anything they wanted out of a 48″ length of 2×4. The only constraints were that they could only make crosscuts and 45 degree miters in a miter box. They were tasked with creating a design model and a complete cut list, and with that completed, they were allowed to grab a board and head over to the miter saw stations (after completing a safety check off).
The project was an awesome success. Students went on to learn construction using drills and drivers, and put down a coat (or a few to many coats) or spray paint to make their final designs. They weren’t always pretty, or complicated (it isn’t easy to do something to crazy with only rough cross and miter cuts), but they designed, fabricated and finished by the students.
I even went on to repeat the project with the 6th grade, with a few more constraints and using another stockpile of 1×2″ scrap boards. They were able to design quickly in Tinkercad, show their designs created with only miter cuts. They were also given the theme constraint of ‘yard games’.
There are a couple of take aways from this project now that it is completed. Firstly, students need some constraints to function. My 8th grade had a massive amount of issues when I told them they could make anything. Once a few theme ideas and examples were thrown out, they very quickly got themselves moving, but the limitless options got them stuck.
Secondly, finding a way to meld design communication into a tangible build brought out motivation in every student. Knowing they had the tools and materials ready when their design was complete had students pushing hard, even graciously accepting my critiques of the designs and getting back to work to revise them.
Third, once the design was out of the way, the cutting and assembly became play. It took me awhile to realize what was happening in the room, but once I saw it, I knew everyone was having fun. The students were playing. Safely, obviously, but they were moving around the room, they were putting in work to rip through the 2x4s. They were taking turns, having friends take over the cutting after they got tired.
This is a project I’ll be keeping in my back pocket. It was quick, inexpensive, effective and most importantly, it was fun. With the semester wrapping up, I’m even looking to move it further up in the next semester, letting students dive into it almost straight away.