Educational Design Project: Part I

A few weeks ago, we mentioned that the Academy students are working to design actual products to be used by our own Providence teachers, and that a grant from New Matter would provide us with three more 3D printers to help accomplish this. The students submitted their final work today, and we wanted to show a snapshot of some of the pieces.

Alec, a freshman, responded to several small projects, the first of which was to design a close-fitting cone/cylinder and pyramid/box set. These will be given to the Geometry class, as a hands-on experiential proof that the volume of a cone is truly one-third of its enclosing cylinder. Students can place the cone inside the cylinder, and fill up the empty space with rice or beans or beads. When they remove the cone, they will find that exactly two-thirds of the cylinder’s volume is still full, meaning the cone took up one-third of the volume. Simple, handy demonstrations like this tend to stick well in a student’s mind, and Alec has provided just the tools to do it!

Alec with his cone/cylinder demonstration, destined for the Geometry class
Eva, also in the 9th Grade, responded to a design brief coming from our middle school engineering elective (Eva participated in this elective last year … and did very well!). At the end of each semester, the middle school students create LEGO robots that attempt to complete a particular challenge. The challenge usually takes the form of collecting or depositing small objects, and we have used coins and foam cubes in the past. Eva is bringing us into the 21st Century with custom-designed 3D-printed hexagonal… things. The “things” are strong enough for an adult to stand on, have gaps and angles that make it easy for the robots to grab on to, are brightly colored for the robot sensors, and are surprisingly light, being mostly hollow. Way to go, Eva!
Eva shows off her game piece for the middle school engineering elective

Gabe, Tys, and Aaron were given permission to respond instead to the “Star Trek Replicator Challenge”, a public competition organized by the ASME Foundation and NASA. The three of them are working individually to create food-related items that could be one day 3D printed by astronauts and interplanetary explorers. While this may sound far-fetched, 3D printing is actually an ideal solution for isolated spacemen and spacewomen; if a tool or part breaks, or if you suddenly need more of a particular item, you can produce it at will from CAD plans, which could either be created locally or transmitted from a design team on Earth.

Gabe’s product, one section of which is pictured, is a food storage container, made in two pieces, with self-locking tabs. He has also taken the opportunity to learn additional CAD skills, such as running finite element analysis (FEA) to determine crucial stress locations.

We wish Gabe, Tys, and Aaron the very best for their submission to the competition!

A small section of Gabe’s NASA food storage solution, with locking tabs

Lastly, sophomore Sarah Jane set about designing the promotional material for next year’s Engineering Academy students. This year, we had a simple flat key tag designed by Mr. Meadth; next year, Sarah Jane’s design will feature a 32 GB USB drive housed in a hexagonal sheath with the Providence “P” logo proudly emblazoned on the front. Creative and useful!

Sarah Jane’s USB drive housing (the final print will be in two colors
and include a 32 GB USB drive)

Part II of this story will come later in the semester, after the students have actually given their printed products to Providence teachers and received feedback. Learning this iterative design loop is a key component of any engineering experience, and the students have taken to it with gusto. Subscribe to this blog to hear about it when it happens!

4th Grade Science Lesson: Catapults!

Let’s be honest—if there’s one thing everybody loves, it’s a good catapult. Few things are more satisfying than choosing one’s favorite projectile, pulling back on a spring-loaded arm, shouting some indistinct battle-cry, and letting fly! With such sentiments firmly in mind, the Providence Engineering Academy set off to the Lower Campus to teach the 4th Grade some basic principles of science and engineering—using catapults.

Tossing aside the temptation to settle for table-top miniatures made of popsicle sticks and elastic bands, the Academy constructed three heavy-duty wooden war machines, with four-foot-long launch arms. Many thanks to sophomore Tys vanZeyl for singlehandedly building one of these himself! The design included custom-made 3D-printed cups to hold the tennis ball projectiles.

Fire! 4th Grade students wisely get out of the way
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

Let’s be clear: while catapults are a lot of fun (and only slightly dangerous in the wrong hands), this was no mere game. The purpose of the lesson was to show the 4th Graders how changing the input variables produces different outcomes. In this case, the 4th Graders had control over two input variables: 1) the position of the launch arm’s fulcrum, and 2) how far back they pulled the arm. The students recorded their distance for different combinations of the two, in an attempt to understand how they could predictably control the outcome in the future.

The lesson also showed that a more durable cup design was needed in the future.

Oops! The blue 3D-printed cup breaks loose and takes flight
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

After recording the different outcomes, the games began! The students marked out scoring zones on the range, and the 4th Graders attempted to land their tennis balls in just the right place—referring, of course, to their data in hand.

Gabe and Aaron help the 4th Grade record their data
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

After three rounds, scores were tied between two teams: the Corn Cats and the Engineering Nerds. The two teams went into a sudden death round, and after a brief struggle, the Engineering Nerds dropped their ball into the zone for a hard-earned win!

The Engineering Nerds win the day!
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

The Academy students finished the day back in the classroom with a round of discussion and questions, asking the 4th Graders about the two variables, their effect on the outcome, and problems they encountered.

Debriefing back in the classroom
(photo by Tys vanZeyl)

Thanks to all of our stellar Engineering Academy students, who planned and prepared and constructed to make this an amazing experience for the 4th Grade. We hope to get down to the Lower School again this semester, and use our knowledge and passion to invigorate the next generation for math and science and engineering.

‘Til next time!

3D Printing Grant for Providence Engineering Academy!

It is with thankfulness and joy that we announce another grant win for the Providence Engineering Academy! The 3D printing company New Matter awarded Providence with the grant last week, and they will soon be shipping us three brand-new MOD-t 3D printers and enough supplies to last a long time. This is the fifth grant that the Academy has won over the past eighteen months, including one written by the students themselves.

(Update 11 March 2016: Pasadena-based New Matter received over 450 grant requests from across the nation, and chose 100 of these.  Providence was the only school in Santa Barbara to receive one of these grants.)

The New Matter MOD-t printers are smaller and simpler than our current Leapfrog one, with the ability to print anything that fits within a 6″ x 4″ x 5″ envelope. Although it sounds small, many of our projects will be well suited to this size, and anything larger can still be sent to our heavy-duty Leapfrog Creatr. The MOD-t printers look great, and are advertised as being quiet enough to operate within a home or classroom with minimum disruption–another advantage over our existing setup.
9th Grade students carefully measure and plan their work
This grant win is particularly well timed, as the students are in the middle of their latest project: to design and produce educational products for the school’s teachers. Having four printers means the students can produce their designs at a much faster rate, putting prototypes in the hands of the teachers and their students as soon as possible.
Providence’s teachers have gladly submitted their design requests to our students, and the types of applications range widely: Mrs. Kleen has asked for scale models that compare Mesopotamian ziggurats to Egyptian pyramids for elementary social studies; Mr. Hurt has asked for connectable models of ionic lattices for his chemistry lessons. One of the students, Sarah Jane, is designing the promotional material for next year’s Academy class, and Jenna is creating a stylish stand for administration computer monitors. Along with all of this in-house effort, three of the boys were given the option to tackle a NASA-sponsored competition called “The Star Trek Replicator Challenge”, where they design 3D-printed food-related items for astronauts and space colonists to use.
It is our hope through all of this that students learn not only to design well, but to design with purpose. We don’t play around with technology just because it’s cool, or to win competitions. As the creative children of a creative God, we use our skills to aid and encourage others.
Stay posted as we continue to update on the educational design project!