Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let kids build stuff

Since writing about popsicle bridges yesterday, I've been thinking about all the trash we recycled in my tech lab as supplies for building and prototyping. My students had a material list of items to bring in that was a bit unusual. They had to scrounge up a paper tube (paper towel, wrapping, etc), a small box (cereal, soap, Rice-a-roni, etc) and a clean tin can or a wire hanger. I had piles of this stuff that kids could then use in their projects.

Students built robot heads out of cereal boxes and animated them using the pneumatic devices we had at one station. Students building mousetrap cars for their science classes came in after school to try out different ideas using my "junk" before cutting into their store bought materials. My favorite example is when I took my 8 year old nephew in one afternoon and set him loose in the construction area with a small electric motor while I graded some assignments. With just a little help from his uncle, he built a small working vehicle by the time we left. The chassis was made from the box for a bar of soap. The axles were made out of a clothes hanger. The tires were cut out of a piece of thick cardboard. It wasn't pretty but it worked and he built it.

I guess my point is that it doesn't take a big budget to get kids some hands on building experience. Let kids build. Let them fail and not worry about the cost, cause eventually they will build something that works. I think these are all good things. Good for kids. Good for education.

When I was a kid, I spent hours building damns out of dirt and sticks in the gutters on the street where I lived. I created complex series of pools connected with sluices that collected the water coming down the street. I experimented with ways to keep the dirt structures from being washed away. I created simple water wheels. I floated small paper boats. I ran out into rain storms to see how the damns held up under the deluge of rain water. The neighbors always said that Gunn kid was either crazy or would be an engineer someday.

I became a I guess that means crazy?

[Image: Palmer, Alfred. "Fort Loudoun Dam Construction." Library of Congress. 1942. 5 Mar 2008 .]

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