Just wanting students to have projects at the end of the year that were engaging and confidence building, I'd been following Exploratorium's Tinkering Studio and found this project called Scribbling Machines. There's nothing like this anywhere close to where I live. They have a rich library of projects and I've tried three different ones this year. In addition to the Scribbling Machine, we did Light Paintings and Cardboard Automata.
Initially I was inspired by going to a MakerFaire last summer. But I had few resources to buy all the expensive materials that those projects require. When I found the Scribbling Machines project, I thought..."I can afford this." So I bought 6 tiny 1.5v motors and the rest is history, as they say.
I turned students loose with the download that I found at Tinkering Studio. Quickly they were able to replicate the machine suggested. But then we tried to push ourselves beyond the expected and here is where students showed their creativity. What was amazing was to see how easily you can convince students that failure isn't a bad thing...it's trying something that is at the outer limits of what they know they can do. It's pushing beyond and if it doesn't work, it's regrouping and redesigning.
Ah-ha!!! a more authentic kind of engineering experience you might say. Students owned this. You could even see it in the way the physical space of the room worked out....their desks were the center of class activity, not mine. They gathered when they needed each other...otherwise they were busy cutting out cardboard, trying to build some new device that would make the scribbling machine spin or travel in a new pattern.
Every team came up with a different idea and every team was successful in making it do what they wanted.
One of the best parts of this project was collaborating with my across the country teacher buddy, Bill Ferriter. We tweeted back and forth, exchanging ideas and helping each other work on the project. It's always better when you do a project with another teacher. He just finished writing up what his students did and it made me realize that I should take the time to do that too. So once again I'm following his lead. It's really the synergy is what makes it so fun.
It's passion-based learning for both me, as the teacher, and for my students.