GMVS STEM Unit
January 7 - February 1, 2019
In this four week program, Green Mountain Valley School 7th grade students learned math and engineering skills through the use of tools and building materials. The project incorporated hands-on learning, along with the mathematics of the 7th grade Connected Mathematic unit of Stretching and Shrinking, which targets proportional reasoning between similar geometric figures.
The unit also included a community engagement component where students collaborated with the Moretown Library to design and build furniture for their children’s library. Students assessed the needs of the space through a site visit and met with the library director, Cory Stephenson. The following weeks involved students designing, prototyping and building their original projects. The program culminated in a public presentation to celebrate the youth-made furniture and fixtures for 0-5 year olds.
Session 1: Building Sawhorses
January 7, 2019
The program began with a saw horse building project. The eight 7th graders worked in pairs to cut and assemble their projects. They used drills, screws, clamps, and the miter saw to make functional pieces of work equipment.
The students started the class with little to no experience working with power tools. We started with basic safety tutorials for using drills, clamps, and the miter saw.
After the safety tutorials, the group of eight paired off and started building their sawhorses. Most of the pieces were cut before class to give the activity an emphasis on drilling and collaborating — spotting each other on tasks and taking turns. They were tasked with measuring and aligning their structures according to a model.
Session 2: Design Challenge
January 9, 2019
Every class session started with a math warm-up exploring proportional reasoning between similar geometric figures. During session two we studied the scale factor of triangles by measuring and comparing shapes cut out of plywood.
After our math warm-up we transitioned into a rapid prototyping exercise which integrated drilling and assembly skills learned in session one. Students were prompted to build a structure out of scrap 2x4’s that stood at least 8 ft. tall and could hold an apple. The groups had 30 minutes to complete the task.
Session 3: Making Benches
January 11, 2019
In the final tool training class, students learned how to make cuts with jigsaws, and how to use orbital sanders by making benches.
Students worked in pairs to clamp and cut each piece of their bench out of 1x12” boards.
Once each group finished cutting out their bench pieces they started assembly. The process involved measuring and finding the midpoint of each piece, lining up and screwing the legs to the center piece, then flipping the structure over to attach the top.
Session 4: Moretown Site Visit
January 14, 2019
After completing a week of tool training, the 7th graders were prepared for the next phase of the STEM unit: designing and making furniture, storage fixtures, and toys for a local community learning initiative. To learn more about the project, they visited the Moretown Town Hall to speak with Moretown Library Director, Cory Stephenson about her Read and Play program for local kids. This weekly winter program combines reading and “loose parts play,” which Cory described as materials that can be moved, combined, redesigned, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.
Throughout our conversation, Cory described some of the needs and constraints of the space. She suggested that the items the students design be (1) mobile – easy to transport, (2) stable – strong enough so that children can’t push it over, and (3) be child-safe – smoothly sanded, no sharp edges, and no parts that are small enough to swallow. She described a vision for an environment with lots of items that would encourage pretending and creative thinking. An example she gave was a texture table (sometimes also called a sensory table), which is a child-height surface full of materials that activate all five senses. After speaking with Cory, the students took time to brainstorm, draw ideas in the space, and ask clarifying questions.
We drove back to GMVS to continue drawing and planning. Whitney and Ellie started sketching designs for a play kitchen, Leon worked on a profile drawing of a foot-powered wooden car, and Ella envisioned the perfect height for a child-sized table.
Session 5: Prototyping
January 16, 2019
During this class, students started making prototypes of their ideas for the Moretown Town Hall. They used their notes and sketches from the site visit to help them create a plan. Each started loosely making frames of their projects out of 2x4’s and plywood, adjusting and shortening their designs as needed to develop a sense of scale and form. Leon started by making axels for a large-scale model of his foot-powered wooden car.
Height was an important consideration in Whitney and Ellie’s design. They mocked up a couple of different length 2x4’s before committing to a height appropriate for 0-5 year olds.
Ella’s idea was to make a pivoting bookshelf. She started by building a couple of rectangular frames out of 5/4”x12” boards and connecting them with hinges in the center.
Session 6: Prototyping 2
January 18, 2019
Prototyping session 2 of 3.
Students quickly gained confidence and skill using the miter saw, circular saw, drills and jig saws through the making of their prototype. This phase of the project provides a setting for the students to create without boundaries. Messing up is encouraged – the low-stakes feel of making a prototype invites students to adjust and change their designs without the pressure of failure.