This summer I was lucky to get the chance to take a workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, CO. This arts retreat in the Rocky Mountains was a wonderful way to focus on making new connections with creating mechanisms. It was also thrilling to be back in a studio environment filled with great tools. My love of a band saw has yet to diminish!
Each participant in the workshop was given a Stepper Motor to use as a source of movement. This is such a wonderfully slow moving motor which I think will be a great tool for class projects. I definitely felt outside my comfort zone at the start of this class and I quickly remembered to just experiment. I initially tried to make an inverse parallelogram mechanism but my brain couldn’t handle it so I decided to just play instead. Below is the video from that experiment.
Once I gained confidence with that mechanism I decided to move onto playing with gears. A main source throughout my time in this workshop is mechanisms.co as well as http://geargenerator.com. I used Gear Generator to create my gears to then laser cut them. I luckily placed them correctly into the wood and they were able to seamlessly move!
As the end of the workshop loomed I decided I needed to try again at mastering the Inverse Parallelogram Mechanism. I pretty much nailed it but one of the legs is a little too short and doesn’t move as seamlessly as I would’ve liked. But I did it!
As my confidence with using the Glowforge laser cutter grew, I desired to create a mixed media project for my 7th graders. The result was a light up shadow box project where students designed the elements on Tinkercad and coding a Neopixel Strip using a Microbit. The goal was for each students shadow box to tell a simple story based on the scene featured. I showed them the work of Hari and Deepti to get them inspired and to start the brainstorming process.
The Tinkercad component taught all of us a lot on how to successfully export a .svg file the Glowforge App would read. The lesson they all learned quickly is that each object needs to be the same height as each other and nothing can have rounded edges.
Each student’s project did a wonderful job being unique and expressive of their personalities. It was also nice to see them carefully work on each aspect of this project. Sometimes I see students rushing through a project and that did not happen with this project.
We used the Neopixel extension through Makecode to program the Microbit component of the project. The code I used specifically is in the image below.
One of the projects I’ve been wanting to make with my students are automatas. They’ve been all over my Twitter feed from other maker educators. I decided to start the project with my 6th graders and they have really been engaged in each aspect of the design process. I had them design the moving pieces in Tinkercad so they could have experience using the Glowforge laser cutter. It was difficult at first to have them change their thinking from being 3D to 2D while designing on Tinkercad. But once they started keeping each element flat on the Workplane it definitely helped. Showing how I laid out my prototype in Tinkercad also gave them further insight on design process. The Scribble feature was used heavily by my students and myself to execute some of the elements. Video of the automata in action is below!
This summer I was incredibly lucky to spend 12 days learning woodworking at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts with the artist Barbara Cooper. The experience was above and beyond my expectations, and the beauty of the campus and the delicious food definitely helped. Haystack has a Fab Lab which is an educational component of MIT’s Center of Bits and Atoms, a network of 400 small-scaled digital fabrication centers.
I was pretty excited to spend time in the Fab Lab, especially to get my hands on a laser cutter. During the Fab Lab orientation I was introduced to creating designs on plywood with the laser cutter that can make the wood bendable. I knew immediately this was a concept I was going to use for one of my experiments.
Barbara Cooper was incredible to work with and the biggest take away I’m using with my students is to think of your projects as ‘experiments’ and not as ‘pieces’. This immediately took the pressure of the creative process and let me just experiment with the wood pieces I had on my work table.
When I started planning my experiment with the laser cutter, I chose to use found these great wood shapes that organically came out of cutting down some planks of wood which used to act as the deck at Haystack. My goal was to use the bendable laser cut wood to fill the gaps in the other wood pieces. I chose to laser cut an entire piece of plywood which did end up taking over an hour – but so worth it! It took a lot of wood glue and masking tape to get the laser cut portions to fit in place into as well as the hands of some of my colleagues.
I can’t wait to get to worth a laser cutter again. I’ve started seeing many different uses of laser cutters around me since my time at Haystack. I don’t think I can ever state in words how incredible of an experience Haystack was. As a maker, it was magical being around so many like-minded people who love to explore the visual arts in different capacities.