Learning Ideas: Design options, cross-referencing, cohesion

This is the fourth and final post in a series about ideas for learning in a Makerspace.

Learning Idea: Explore design options.

Mechanisms Chooser ChartAnother UK idea is to make design options visible to students through “chooser charts.” For example, in the Mechanisms Chooser Chart shown right, multiple options are shown for each of the types of movement change (e.g. “From linear to rotating” or vice versa can be done with a wheel and axle, rope and pulley, rack and pinion, chain and sprocket, or screw thread).

Teaching design decisions explicitly can be helpful. Chester has developed CAD instruction that includes strategic knowledge in order to make student creations “easy to change” — an expert skill. There are also probably design space explorations hidden in other resources. For example, THE Paper Airplane Book (ISBN 0394743059) contains a well-illustrated “Principles of Flight” section covering paper airplane parts, stability, performance, wing and airfoil design, strength, and construction. We are looking for similar ideas in other references.

Exploring designs through simulation might be useful. For example, a model rocket simulator such as NASA’s RocketModeler III (left, below) or OpenRocket (right, below) could be useful for helping students see the implications of different compressed air rocket designs.

RocketModeler III  OpenRocket

Learning Idea: Consumable construction kits with jigs.

LEGO, FisherTechnik, Erector, and other construction kits have long been used in classrooms. But they are expensive, and as a result student creations cannot be kept. More recently, consumable kits have been appearing such as Inventa, Kre8, TeacherGeek, K’lik, and TechCard.

PolymekAnother system, Polymek (shown right), used a series of jigs that enabled plastic pieces to be cut, drilled, tapped, and slotted.

These systems can inspire an open-source construction system, possibly made from cardboard or plastic for local manufacturing. We are collecting low-cost construction techniques, such as NASA’s Solar Sail Mast, TEP’s roll tube structures, and Dustyn Roberts’s guide from NYU’s ITP mechanisms class: making your own gears using Inkscape.

Polymek cross-referencing

Learning Idea: Cross-referenced ideas and instructions.

The Polymek kit came with a set of work cards in three categories: how to use, how to join, and ideas. The cards were all cross-referenced, enabling someone to see how joints were made, using what tools, and in what idea contexts. The example card shown to the right shows “how to join frames from the red tube,” and references joints (in red diamonds) and tools (in blue squares) described on other cards.

This approach can be useful for MakeWorld, a planned collection of online reference pages inspired by MathWorld. MakeWorld will be curated to reflect the tools, applications, and STEM subjects that are useful for making in high school. They will include safety information, practical advice, relevant demonstrations, and other appropriate extensions to simple definitions. These reference pages can potentially be included in Make:Projects and instructables.com writeups.

Learning Idea: More detail about the space is helpful.

Getting started in creating a Makerspace can be challenging.

SloydWe can look back to Sloyd, a technology education approach from Northern Europe dating back to the late 1800s. They specified everything from the workbench (shown right), tools, tool storage, room layout, tool use, and sequence of projects increasing in complexity. The approach was applied to paper, cardboard, wood, and metal, with many books written to support making progressions in each medium.

We are working on a Makerspace Playbook that aims to have similarly detailed tips and techniques for furniture and material storage options in setting up a space, a list of tools and materials that are most useful to stock, and projects enabled by the space.

A collection of safety approaches is also being planned in conjunction with the community to be useful in Makerspaces, hackerspaces, and other tool-centric spaces. Posters can provide reference materials that can be mounted on Makerspace walls. And MakeWorld is being planned as a collection of techniques and instructions for using tools, making design decisions, and tying in more traditional STEM subjects.

Learning Idea: Aim for cohesion.

Nathan et.al. suggest that integrating STEM in an engineering classroom can be helped by “producing and maintaining cohesion of central concepts across the range of mathematical representations and scientific laws, technological objects, engineering designs and social structures.“

The goal of Makerspace is not to be an engineering classroom per se, but we are interested in supporting the central STEM concepts that are most generative for making. Zacharias (to whom we referred in our first Learning Ideas post) wanted to teach the structure of physics — we’d like to have the structure of physics available to support interested students and teachers.

One interesting approach is the Karlsruhe Physics Course, which uses engineering flow models to present a coherent picture of basic physics and the role of energy across systems. A nice presentation of the structure of chemistry comes from Peter Atkins’s “Skeletal chemistry,” which can be combined with new representations like structure-focused periodic table from Thinking Chemistry (shown below).

For math, Hung-Hsi Wu’s list of “The Mathematics K-12 Teachers Need to Know” might be useful for trying to find what’s needed for math (this requires further study).

  • Precision: Mathematical statements are clear and unambiguous. At any moment, it is clear what is known and what is not known.
  • Definitions: They are the bedrock of the mathematical structure. They are the platform that supports reasoning. No definitions, no mathematics.
  • Reasoning: The lifeblood of mathematics. The engine that drives problem solving. Its absence is the root cause of teaching- and learning- by-rote.
  • Coherence: Mathematics is a tapestry in which all the concepts and skills are interwoven. it is all of a piece.
  • Purposefulness: Mathematics is goal-oriented, and every concept or skill is there for a purpose. Mathematics is not just fun and games.

For reference, seven cross-cutting concepts from science and engineering are specified in the new science education framework:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Scale, proportion, and quantity
  4. Systems and system models
  5. Energy and matter
  6. Structure and function
  7. Stability and change

The list of learning ideas I’ve introduced over the past few posts is by no means exhaustive. These are just starting points for helping to move Makerspace teachers and students towards a productive collection of ideas. We are sure that once schools start setting up, using, and sharing the tools, materials, and ideas from both Make and from educational archives, fantastic things will start to happen. We look forward to fostering this community.