Hi, I’m James, a science teacher at a small, rural school district.
I have six different science classes, and the ability to custom make “science stuff” is going to be helpful.
Here is my first idea for using the Glowforge in a classroom: allowing students to design blades for a windmill.
I just finished a unit for our ninth grade students, building a model of a city. The requirements of the city was to have two power sources, one solar, and one that the student chooses on their own. In addition, the model included power infrastructure and power usage.
Several students choose wind power for an energy source. I had dreams of students cutting out different designs, and carefully testing them. Alas, this was not to happen. Students became attached to their own, initial designs, and it was difficult to get students to change designs, even ones that didn’t work.
As I looked at the windmill designs, I can see why students were reluctant to try new designs. Students put such effort into a single design, they were reluctant to try new ones. After deciding the material to use to make blades, after cutting and folding, then trying to attach the blades to a motor, then trying to get the blade to work, there was little or no chance that students would “start over” on a new design.
As I watched students on their first design, one barrier to student success was that students couldn’t make the things they thought about in their head. Because our funding is limited, students had to make their stuff out of found items. We have a large pile of cardboard, some paper, and some basic craft supplies. Students had ideas they wanted to try out, but when it came time to cut out the materials, the cardboard wouldn’t cut cleanly, the paper was too flimsy, straws were hard to work with.
This is where the Glowforge comes in. One design that failed was a folded pinwheel. The student who tried it didn’t realize that the design failed because when attaching it to the motor, she put the shaft off center. A precise design cut-out, with the hole that allows the pinwheel to be properly centered would have solved this issue. Then, instead of folding several more identical pinwheels, each time getting them off center, this student could go on testing different designs.
Several student designs weren’t flawed, but the material the students choose was insufficient for the task. With the ability to cut copies of objects using different materials, student could make better decisions for their windmills.
This lesson turned out to be focused on student’s ability to cut and assemble, and less about the design process. When anybody puts so much work into an object, of course they will be reluctant to make changes. My classroom goal was not to assess student building ability, it was to see if students could come up with a design, then thoughtfully modify that design. I hope that using a Glowforge will make the mechanics of building the blade of a windmill easy, so students can instead focus on modification and improvement of blade designs.
I would welcome any feedback to this post, and I hope I have placed this post in the correct spot.
For you educators out there, the part of the project focused on power generation is based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) cross cutting standard “Science and Engineering Practices”. Part of this standard is designing a solution to a problem. Specifically the standard reads: “Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem…”