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 Shrinkingwhich 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.

Students practicing with drills by screwing together and taking apart a pair of 2x4’s.

Tabor demonstrating how to make a cut with 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.

Tommy and Tabor screwing the top board onto their sawhorse.

7th graders sitting proudly on their sawhorses.

7th graders sitting proudly on their sawhorses.

 

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.

Students taking notes during math warm-ups at the beginning of class.

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.

Girls celebrating the success of their 8 ft. tall apple tower.

 

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.

Ella and Whitney using their sawhorse to support a jigsaw cut.

Students worked in pairs to clamp and cut each piece of their bench out of 1x12” boards.

Students using orbital sanders to smoothen the edges of their bench pieces.

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.

Leon holding the bench in place while Ava drills.

Students standing with their finished benches.

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.

Whitney and Ellie drawing their ideas for a play kitchen.

 

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.

Ellie and Whitney working together on a play kitchen prototype.

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 making frames for a bookshelf.

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.

View of our workspace – the backstage area of the GMVS auditorium, the space is used in the summer months to build sets and props for the school’s theater performances, and before that it was a gym.

Ella fitting shelves into her hinged bookshelf.

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.

Students could work independently or collaboratively on their projects.

 

Session 7

January 23, 2019

 

Session 8

January 25, 2019

 

Session 9

January 28, 2019

 

Session 10

January 30, 2019

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Session 11

February 1, 2019

Moretown Delivery

February 8, 2019