This is part of the Autumn Maker School series of posts, even though I finished my own Autumn Maker School experience earlier than intended.
I’m teaching a class called “Vehicles” in the Design Lab after school. The nature of the class is that I’m teaching kids to reinvent the wheel. Which is dumb.
Except it’s not. The wheel has been reinvented dozens if not hundreds of times over millennia since they first appeared (along with the earliest graveled or graded roads in China, India, Mesopotamia and elsewhere). Sometimes wheels are are single slabs of wood; sometimes they’re shaped out of multiple slabs of wood bolted or bridged together; sometimes they’re rim with spokes; sometimes they’re metal or wood; sometimes they have teeth and become gears; and so on, and so on, ad infinitum. It’s also the case that only the wheels can turn, the axle and wheels can turn, or the axle’s movement can drive the wheels in some fashion.
The class is seven hours of instruction time, plus an additional three and a half hours of play and experimentation time, spread over eight weeks. In the process of designing the class, I thought, “We’re going to build a paper helicopter with a rubber-band-powered rotor, and a square-rigged toy sailing boat; and a triangular-sailed toy boat, and a trio of car designs, and… and… and…” I had about sixty different things that I wanted us to build.
… Yeah. About that. Ten and a half hours is not enough time to build as many different vehicles as I want. But…
But it occurred to me. What if they build a multiply-applicable body for construction and design? What if they build a basic platform, which can be variably-adapted? What if they build a car, that can also be a boat hull, which can also support the two kinds of sails, which can then be cut and repurposed to build a rubber-band and paddle boat?
So I did that. And it appears to work pretty well. Now kids can build one platform, and add or subtract elements to it in a variety of ways. It’s exactly like the Balsawood Car Derby that kids do in Boy Scouts, really (is it actually Cub Scouts? I think so, now that I think about it): here’s a standard model, variable and adaptable. A test bed.
And so by teaching kids to build test beds once, I can teach them more about the modes of getting their test beds to move; and spend less time working on getting their test-beds built in the first place.