Glowforge in a classroom

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…”


That’s perfect for the iterative process that a GF is good for. Design, cut, test, re-design. The speed of design to manufacturing and the ability to be precise about things (like center holes) that otherwise become time sucks should help them learn a lot more than a static design and wonder how it would turn out in real life approach. I wish I had one when I was a kid.


Yep, sounds like the perfect application for it. Welcome to the forum. :relaxed:


Yeah exactly what you need is a GF. It’s fast enough to iterate and each group can get through in a reasonable period of time (if you’re only cutting it is very fast) and easy enough to let students do it themselves (which builds confidence). They will fail, but as long as they learn from failure, that’s a positive (not the same as failure to google).

Scrap materials are best anyways, as an engineer from MIT I work with says, if you make it out of gold then you are too invested to rethink it, but if it is scrap cardboard you will happily throw it away and rethink.

My son’s math teacher has them laser cutting 3D house designs where they get limited material, and have to lay the house out according to mathematical formulas; even though the school is rich enough to make it out of acrylic if they wanted, they use scrap for the whole idea of don’t get attached, revise, revise and revise again. Your final version may be expensive materials, but only that one.

And yes the GF will save you from the pain of trying to also be an arts-and-crafts class, since the emphasis is on design here, and having precision cut materials in seconds will be a huge benefit. What’s cool is kids will now need to think about kerfs and other real world issues (which is great, since that’s math/engineering) because you now have enough precision to make those things potentially matter (not day one of course).

My son’s math teacher also uses this project in her class as well, which again would be impossible by hand before the heat-death of the universel:

Your problem will be getting the kids to work without the GF once you have it…


They’ve already learned the most important lesson…

Value the people who have to actually MAKE the things that designers dream up, because it’s not always easy nor straightforward even with parts made by machine.


A GF or something like it will help a lot, but it will also (to some extent) just move the underlying problem somewhere else in the process. It will turn what the students design in some kind of CAD/drawing program, (or on paper if you trace) into real objects more effectively, but whether it turns the things in kids’ heads into real objects is another question. At least it’s potentially a much more interesting question.


whereabouts are you? as a product of rural state schools, it’s a topic that’s dear to my heart.

When I was living off-grid in a very high-wind spot, I spent some time considering building a wind turbine to compliment my solar power system. The biggest challenge for me the consistently high wind speeds during the winter, when I would have been able to get the most out of it (snow covering the panels and less daylight time).

I sold the place before I ever got to that particular project. Had I built one, though, it would certainly have been a vertical-axis turbine, as that seems to be the best method to deal with high wind speeds and shifting wind directions.

Harvesting that free power just makes so much sense to me.


I so wish that students would have thought of different designs. We have wind farms all around us, but there are no vertical axis turbines, so our designs were pretty standard. On the other hand, there were a few students who made watermills… these were unique!


We are out in Eastern Washington State.


@Dan, an idea for the hopper would be an educators area in the forum for those of us who might/do use the GF in education, which might help educators share intraclassroom ideas in a central location?


One of the reasons I never got to that project was watching YouTube videos of people who had made their own vertical axis turbines trying to shut them down or stop them… that got scary-looking pretty quickly!


Nobody thought to incorporate a braking system for maintenance? Seems that a rotor disc and caliper would be a really easy way to set it up.


Think more along the lines of throwing a javelin into a giant eggbeater :face_with_head_bandage:

(The commercially available ones generally incorporate braking, but cost much more than some pvc pipes, a car battery, and an old junkyard alternator)


Oh man… an alternator like that would be even easier to stop, and you dont need any special braking (or a strong stick and quick reflexes). Just shunt the alternator leads directly to each other and it will stop, pretty abruptly at that.


Those vertical ones can get pretty impressive torque. I am going to try to incorporate the magnetic braking they use in the rocket cars they use to set land speed records as well as a disk brake when I make my big one (some day, not anytime soon) after watching some of the videos of turbines failing

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I can’t find the fail videos that I remember watching, but I seem to recall a belt-driven alternator.

Wouldn’t matter if the turbine was mounted directly to the alternator shaft or connected via belt/chain or gear drive, the braking action inherent to the alternator will work through any drive system.

The diodes need to be removed from the alternator to do this though.

You have come to the right place and are getting the right machine. Using common and inexpensive materials to rapidly prototype is so easy with the Glowforge. Precision in making is one of the keys to good engineering and it is just hard to do by hand when you are starting out. I use cardboard all the time to test a design just to find things that I may have missed in visual inspection of a design.

And if you start looking, you can find good deals on acrylic which cuts beautifully and is light and for smaller applications is really strong, especially the 1/4" stuff. craft plywood can be cheap, but it has issues with voids and glue globs messing up.

Welcome to the forum and just start putting ideas and questions out. Looking forward to what you can do with a Glowforge and a class of students!


That’s perfect! A Glowforge will transform that unit of your class.

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