Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's alive! Flynn Elementary- Project Explore

After playing with circuitry in play doughs and magic wands, students were asked to design a toy with at least one simple circuit including an LED, motor, or both.
Eek!  It's a spider!
We spent some time watching PBS Design Squad, including this video of a mechanical engineer with one of the cooler jobs on the planet- designing toys.  But not only adults can design amazing inventions, of course, so videos like the one of these kids were very inspiring.

This took weeks, and the students were extremely committed to their ideas and drawn plans. Sometimes this is good, and it works out that they can make pretty much the thing they designed.  For examples, this student retrofitted a pinwheel to make a fan.
Oooh, so breezy!

 and this student had a dancing crab in mind all along:
Her biggest challenge was that the eyes kept flying off (at *least* a dozen times) when it was going.

 But sometimes the thing you wanted to make doesn't work. Maybe because the circuitry needed exceeded the ability to build it, maybe because it didn't move the way the designer expected, maybe because the initial drawing had to be altered a lot to engineer it to function.

This is where the real flexible thinking and creative solutions happen: maybe it isn't actually what I thought it was.  It's whole purpose is different. Meet the M Bot.

M Bot.
M Bot was supposed to be a vibrating insect with three LEDs underneath.  But M Bot was not good at being an insect, and the young designer struggled a great deal with it. Now, I find it more valuable at that point to not tell the designer how or what to do to make it exactly what he wanted, but instead to ask him what else it could be.

Turns out that instead of a bug, M Bot is a great massaging machine.  Cool, huh?  What terrific flexible thinking. Because at the start of a great many inventions, inventors started out with a different goal than the product with which they ended up.  Things from microwaves to Slinkys are inventions that were not part of the initial goal of the designer.

This little teddy's hand lights up if you squeeze it

An ice skating snowman who glides in little circles across the table
We went to the Kindergarten to show off some of the prototypes in their early phases. The children were especially fond of the crab and this this little robot who draws circles.

In the end, students went back and redrew their diagram to match what they had actually built. It was very neat to compare it to their original plan and see what changes had had to happen.
A sculptural initial with a single LED.  Maybe an application as a nightlight?

A catapult with a single LED. So that it can be fired in the dark, of course.
So many wonderful and varied ideas came out of this session of Project Explore.  The goal is not to produce mechanical engineers or industrial designers (although, come to think of it, go for it kids!) but rather to build tenacious workers, creative problem solvers, confident kids, and flexible thinkers.

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