I’ve been writing recently about FabLabs (here and here), and the importance of providing times, ways, and places for students to design and build their own “solutions” to problems, especially problems they discover, and to refine those “solutions” in multiple iterations.

(Be sure to see the two other posts sharing class work also: here and here).

At St. Gregory, where we aspire to “create innovators,” one of our most important and most exciting initiatives over the past two years has been the steady advance of our “Design Build”  Tech Innovations class,  taught by the amazing and awesome Mr. Dennis Conner.   It is an entirely PBL formatted class, with no set curriculum other than having students investigate “problems” and choose one to design and build solutions for.

The class continues to be a great success, and the difficult question looming for us at St. Gregory is whether to decide to move it from an optional elective (it is taught pass-fail, students can take it as many times as they wish, and it has received great enthusiasm from its participants) to a required freshman or sophomore class, formatted as an “introduction to and foundations of innovation” class.     The jury is still out on this one.

Suzie Boss, an edutopia blogger and author of Reinventing Project Based Learning with Technology, and  who visited St. Gregory last spring for two days, wrote this recently, in a piece entitled “How Design Build Curriculum Can Transform a Community.”

Where does a project like this fit into current discussions of 21st-century skills?

Our students are learning skills like welding and carpentry, 2D and 3D modeling. But those are the vehicles to do something else. We blog as much as we’re on the table saw. We’re giving them tools for entrepreneurship, for innovation, for local citizenship and engagement. We’re giving them a way to think through problems in their own lives. Design is all about possibility. For a student, that’s the best gift you can give them.

With the fall semester now completed, I want to share, in this post and in two following posts, examples of student work completed in the past few months by their own reports.  You can find the whole set on the class website here.

Spencer B’s project: a HEXAPOD

This is a hexapod. A hexapod is a robot with 6 ‘legs’, in this case with 3dof per leg. And before I bore you, I want to tell you that this is quite possibly the greatest project I have ever worked on. It has cost me, so far, just below 1k. Bit expensive, no? But the experience and result has been worth it. Intrigued?

This has been a labor of love. It’s been frustrating. It still won’t walk, this is because I had no idea about its power consumption. 8 amps? Despite that ridiculous number for a rather small robot, the control program (which consists of a virtual cube you can rotate with arrow keys and change with a few keystrokes) is nearly there! I’ll post it later on.

The robot was constructed primarily out of anodized aluminum parts and 18 servos. It includes a high amp regulator, as well as a microcontroller and a radio module. It looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. Here’s a link to where I got the parts:   WWW.LYNXMOTION.COM


Clayton M’s project: Rockets!

Michael and others: the Trebuchet 2:

Filmed at our soccer field just behind our Science Laboratories, and also at a Trebuchet competition held in October on the campus of the University of Arizona, in which our students competed.