Education. Laser cut designs and assembly. Kids learn how to use 3D CAD. School project.

in GEMS7 months ago (edited)

One of my favourite projects to teach my students is the 'Maze Puzzle Project'. I currently teach Design and Technology to children aged 7 to 13. Year 4 (8/9 year olds) spend most of the year working on this particular project that guides them through the appropriate design stages before the final stages of manufacture and assembly.

The Maze Puzzle Project starts out like many other projects and works through the following stages.

  • Design Brief
  • Materials and Manufacture
  • Product Research
  • Initial Ideas
  • Development
  • Final Design
  • CAD
  • Manufacture
  • Assembly
  • Evaluation
  • Packaging (as an extension)

Students are taught to design original models based on their own ideas while learning how to render their paper drawn designs. Although this is an exciting part of the project (and will be blogged about at another time) it is not considered the highlight of the project.

Ask any student in class and they will all say they look forward to the making stage. Manufacture allows the children to see their models come to life before they get a chance to put them together.

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This particular project aims to teach traditional design skills (drawing/rendering) before feeding into modern CAD technology where students create 3D models of their designs and export their layers as an .SVG file suitable for laser cutting.

Although we do see the need, and still do teach manufacture with hand tools in other projects, we are also ensuring students are skilled in current/modern manufacturing methods as well.

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In house video tutorials are custom made for this project and explain every step. Students are encouraged to explore different features of the CAD software and work independently.

The 'on paper' renderings are then drawn out on the computer following the 4 main steps. Students already realise that their maze puzzle is made up of 2 main layers but often forget that there is infact a 3rd layer - the clear acrylic layer over the top to stop the ball bearings from falling out. It usually doesn't take long for one of the students to suggest using the same exported .SVG file as the base layer to cut out the clear acrylic layer to ensure the shape is the same.

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Student examples

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Student examples

Presentation of their finished 3D CAD model is usually fairly limited in terms of digital rendering and choosing colour since the software is quite basic. They usually pick 2 generic colours that they feel is suitable but revert back to their original colour scheme from their design work during the assembly stage.

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Work at each stage is photographed for students to add to their digital portfolios. At this stage the 2 maze layers have just been cut on the laser cutter and placed together to test size and scale. MDF is the material of choice as it's cheap, easy to use and cuts great on the laser cutter. Since there is no manufacturing with hand tools such as cutting or sanding we do not need to worry about the dust.

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The photo above shows an example of the laser cutter in action, although this cut and these templates are of a different project.

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As the class beam with excitement looking at each others perfectly cut models they now begin the assembly process where their layers/parts need to be stained, glued together and pinned.

A range or wood stain colours are mixed up to meet the needs of each design.

You can see in the photo below that an imprint (seen on the orange shape) of the maze pattern from layer 2 has been etched onto the base layer acting as a guide showing where each part needs to be glued. This is taught to the students as a way to allow machines to make our job a little easier without having to do much more. Planning ahead and working smart! It also teaches and ensures absolute accuracy - something we discuss in class.

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The parts/pieces are stained separately so that the stain doesn't bleed onto another shape. Once the wood stain is completely dry they are able to glue everything together. Wood glue is sufficient and forgiving in case of mess.

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Lollipop sticks replace brushes when smearing glue onto the back of the MDF. This makes students think a little more about how much glue is actually needed and avoids brushes from drying hard!

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During the CAD design, Step 4 asked the students to place matching holes through all layers - the base layer, the middle maze layer and the top acrylic cover layer. These holes would later be pinned with plastic rivets that would hold the 3 layers together without the need of more glue.

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Of course at this stage, once all of the maze has been glued together, students would ask for ball bearings and plastic rivets so that they could clip it together and start playing. Since the glue is still wet and how excess glue usually squeezes out from the edges we had to wait.

The time of basically waiting for glue to dry was a perfect opportunity for students to begin their digital write up and add a new page to their digital portfolio.

Students are lucky in that they have access to iPads and so making use of Keynote seemed like a natural choice to create a digital portfolio that tracks their work from beginning to end.

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Students evaluate their work and explain the processes that they used. They search for strengths and weakness and try to include suggestions of how or where they could make improvements. Peer review is often tied into this to broaden their awareness.

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The final part of this stage was something new to all of the students - using a light box to photograph their work.

As students take photos of their work and the processes that they use through projects, we try to teach them methods of how they can improve their photos. Sometimes it is as simple as changing the angle of the camera, clearing the table of mess or being aware of what's in the background of your shot.

Using the light box was new to everyone, mainly because it was a new addition to our department and as many thought the 60cm x 60cm x 60cm box was going to be used for storage, only one student worked out that it was more likely to have something to do with presentation.

It was explained to students that the box did nothing more than bounce even light off each wall and allow for a clean, background free stage to photograph work. The students lined up with their iPads and the results were amazing.

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Some students chose to make additional table stands for their mazes to sit on, they said it would give their work "more of a 3D appearance".

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To finish off the lesson we took a group photo, we loaded up the lightbox with all of the mazes and turned the light to full power. A few reflections we created but this was to the liking of the class.

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I hope you enjoyed this post and please follow for more like it in the future.

All content is original: the photos (unless stated), the writing and the teaching!

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