GF in the Classroom II ; How can you make a model dynamic?

This is another project that I want to do, with my highly anticipated Glowforge (coming in August!)

Building models of stuff is a large part of the Science and Engineering Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Models are used to “provide mechanistic accounts of phenomena.” When having students build models, they can actually finish the activity, have a nice model, but still be confused about the phenomena.

I’ve had students build 3-D maps using topographic maps and corrugated cardboard. They trace the contour lines, cut out the cardboard, and assemble the pieces. Viola! 3-D model.

There are a few issues with this model building. First is that someone went through our school, and as a safety measure, blunted all the sharp tips of our box knives. This makes it very difficult to cut cardboard. It’s really hard to cut cardboard with scissors, the difficulty means that female students often just “let the boys do it.” Because of the time and effort spent making one model, they end up being static. This is a shame, because we live in an area with dynamic geology. We are within 50 miles of the channeled scablands, the area formed when the ice dam that created lake Missoula failed. We have glacier carved valleys, volcanic basalt flows, and tons of other interesting things.

I know that the Glowforge will be useful in creating 3-D models. One idea that is rattling in my head that I don’t have an answer for is how can I make my models dynamic? Depending on the class, I would be willing to let them figure out how to make a dynamic model of, say, the formation of a glacial valley over time. Does anyone else have any clever ideas? I’d love to hear them.


This is really cool that @henryhbk posted a while back
Amazing 3D animated topography map

Might be too complicated though


…so someone ruined all your knives. How do they expect you to teach with broken tools? Keep that person far away from your laser!


For making your maps/models dynamic, are you talking something more than just replaceable or removable sections? Because it should be pretty easy to cut the topography for the sections that stay the same among events and then add/subtract pieces representing changes. (It would be kinda cool, for a flood, say, if you could do tiny tabs holding on the pieces that are going to go away, assemble the whole thing with careful gluing, and then just rip off the sections that the flood takes out.)

Fault lines would be nice too, because you could show how sections slip past each other or ride up or do all those other things by making the cuts on different layers follow the 3D profile of the fault…

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Seems like sheets of living hinge would work for gradual elevation change. Maybe something like this:

Not sure exactly what to put under to get the shapes you want. Cardboard with (blunt) pins through the living hinge into the cardboard? Or where you trying to eliminate cardboard? Or maybe what’s the point of the living hinge if you cut out the cardboard? This also wouldn’t allow for dramatic changes in topology, like possibly the channeled scablands you mention, either.

Meh. Maybe this’ll get somebody else’s better idea going.


Which is funny, since I find when I teach HS students, that the women have patience for long drawn out meticulous tasks with plenty of problem solving, while most boys get bored so quickly (although this did involve bladed weapons…)

I would divide up the groups into geologic eras (of whatever number of major changes) and each group has to make topo maps of that era on unique features, and have to have some idea why that change happened and if you have lots of time maybe they have to do a before/after map of the change. To make it real always include some human thing on the model (like here is the volcano that erupted 100000 years ago, and here is where the football stadium sits).


Looks like fun