2016 3D Design & Fabrication Challenge Complete

Our school year has ended and so has this year’s 3D Design & Fab Challenge at The School. I’m always revising the parts and processes of this unit each year, and (hopefully) improving it on each revision. That said, I think that this year’s crew of 5th graders have performed outstanding feats of design. Each group went through 2 – 4 design revisions, and while I would budget even more time for revisions next year, I was really happy with their work. We ended the unit with a pop-up gallery of all the student work and samples of their design documents, interviews, drawings and early prototypes. Some final products were 3D printed, few were hand-made from craft materials, and a few others were hybrids of the two. Parents and teachers came to experience the work and it was great to see the students talking about their process and their products with adults!

Unsurprisingly, we have authentic, student-designed solutions to these authentic problems that teachers posed to us many months ago. Enjoy the photos and captions below of all the student designs:

While I personally would love to share these 3D files on a hosted platform like Thingiverse or YouMagine right away, I should talk to those students first. My fifth graders are certainly under 13-years old, which means that they can’t yet have accounts on these sites based on privacy concerns, but more importantly I never got their permission to share their work for them. 🙂

One of my concerns about this project was that I never truly touched on issues of IP, CC licensing, or the Open Source movement with the students. A new goal for me next year is to bring these issues to them, and to encourage them to find a way to share their designs with the world via these Open Source platforms. For now, we’ll all have to enjoy these photos until a future share date!

Project Astroleo: Our HAB is Ready for Launch!

Our custom, student-designed, student-built, student-programmed HAB rig is finally ready for launch. PVC pipe structure with 3D printed joint connectors. RaspberryPi controller with SenseHat data logger coded with Python. PiCamera capturing HDMI video and stuffed Astroleo selfie-shots. Arduino GPRS+GSM tracking system. 3D printed cases and mounts all the electronics.

Let’s hope for a clear day with kind winds in the future. Our planned launch is halted if we don’t have clear skies or if the prevailing winds would blow the balloon into NYC airspace, or simply send the rig over the Atlantic Ocean where we cannot recover the payload.

Project Astroleo: Progress

Our student-designed HAB rig is coming together! Just a few more tests and tweaks. We’ve been building and gluing the PVC rig together, fitting the 3D printed parts, modifying the sensor and GPS tracking programs for our Raspberry Pi, and testing the results… we take a walk around the park with all the components turned on, and then we read the data after we return. Onward and upward.

Experimental Instruments: Chance Performance

Our culminating event for our experimental instruments unit was a mixed arts chance performance in the vein of composer John Cage. The entire 4th grade was split into four groups: Music, Dance, Costume Art, and Science/Technology. Each group prepared and rehearsed their own contribution to what was to be our cumulative chance performance. Basically, this means that the composition structure and elements were decided randomly (dice rolls) and that performers also can improvise when they are conducted to contribute.

In terms of my Technology class, this unit served as a vehicle to integrate computer science and programming into the larger curriculum. In order to make our various experimental musical instruments actually work, all 4th grade students had to grapple with common computational thinking concepts (loops, conditionals, variables, etc.) and practices (iteration, debugging, etc.) while designing their instruments. We also dove into physical computing concepts with the integration of sensors (distance, touch, loudness & motion) into our instrument designs.

Enjoy a short clip of our young technologists performing with their DIY instruments and links to sample musical programs that drive them.

Experimental, electronic instruments (coded in Scratch):

Students are calibrating an array of experimental instruments including a pencil-drawn drum kit, a distance-sensor theremin, a musical dance floor button, and a volume-sensitive animation for the LCD projector.


The last part of our exploration of structural engineering, 5th graders learned about domes by collaboratively building model geodesic domes from drinking straws and jix connectors. Big takeaways were that domes are employed because they are inexpensive, lightweight, natural disaster resistant and the most efficient way to cover a ground area in terms of materials and time required for assembly.

Dome, Sweet Dome.

Dome, Sweet Dome.

We learned about famous inventor Buckminster Fuller and built our own geodesic dome from newspaper and duct tape. This was one day during our Integrated Projects Week (IPW) session “Epic Invento-Mania”.