Monday, March 25, 2013

da Vinci Armored Cars | 7th grade Math

Understanding how to construct a complex 3D object using simple 2D shapes is one of the most challenging skills to learn as a maker. But the good news is that the more opportunities we give our students to practice this skill, the better they will get at it. And that's where the Bourn Lab comes in!

When the Bourn Lab first opened its doors in January of 2012, one of the first projects to be developed was a collaboration between the lab and our 7th grade history teacher. The project, commonly known as the "da Vinci project" around campus, involves asking students to build replicas of machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci. (We describe that project in more detail here!)

After the first iteration, as we started discussing how we want to refine the project for v2.0, our 7th grade math teacher Carolyn Steele approached us with an amazing idea to help prepare students for the da Vinci project. She wanted to incorporate a making project in her class, one that will allow her to teach Pythagorean Theorem, let students see first-hand the applications of the theroem, and at the same time give them hands-on experience building complex 3D objects from 2D shapes! To connect it further with the da Vinci project, she thought the his armored car would be a good choice with plenty of opportunities for students to apply the Pythagorean Theorem.

After spending a few afternoons herself building a replica of the armored car with us in the lab, Carolyn was ready to bring the project back to her classroom. She decided to run the activity as a design challenge, a la Project Runway, with the students as "designers" (Tim Gunn impression 100% necessary, of course). In each of her classes, she challenged her designers to do measurements and calculations in order to decide on the dimensions of the trapezoidal pieces that will be used to construct a section of the vehicle as well as the total number of pieces needed. Towards the end of class, each group presented their results and the class voted on one final set of measurements, which was then passed on to the Bourn Lab.

On our end, we took the dimensions and quantities of trapezoids and quickly laser cut them out of thick cardboard. The next day, the classes used their laser cut pieces to build that particular section of the vehicle in order to check their calculations before moving on to the next section of the vehicle.

Originally, Carolyn had planned on doing this activity for just a couple of days, enough time to build out the two main sections of the vehicle. But after seeing the enthusiasm and level of learning that the students were experiencing, she extended the activity to the full week. By the end of the week, each class had constructed an armored vehicle as a team and they were proud to show it off!

Good work, designers!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Makers' Studio: Toys! | Middle School Elective

How might you design an educational toy for a fourth grader? 

That is the design prompt we posed to a group of students who were part of a recent middle school elective, "Makers' Studio: Toys!" Developed in collaboration with our art and design teacher Helen Shanks, this elective was a way for students to experience the steps of the design thinking process in the context of a fun design challenge.

To kickstart the elective, we first asked each student to talk with each other about their favorite toys and interview adults on campus about the toys they remember from their childhood. In addition, they had to think back to when they were younger and ask their younger siblings about what they're studying in elementary school, in order to figure out how their educational toys can be help fourth graders learn. (For the next version, we think it would be even better to partner with an elementary school teacher so that our students can have authentic fourth-grade "clients" for their project.)

Then, it was off to a local toy store for field research! And lest you think dispatching a group of middle schoolers is a bad idea, our girls were 100% focused on their objective and walked through the aisles meticulously jotting down notes and talking with each other about why certain toys hold appeal. 

After all this research, they were ready to get back to the lab to start brainstorming and prototyping . By the end of the elective, we had everything from a game that teaches kids about fishes and fish facts to a board game about the Gold Rush to a jigsaw puzzle that doubled as a multiplication exercise to a handmade ukelele. 

It turns out toys are always fun, even if you are designing them instead of playing them!