After investigating a pair of bird feeders with the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities visible thinking routine, and coming to the conclusion that bird feeders were more like “bird restaurants”, it was time for us to begin building our own. Using the restaurant idea as a starting point, the prompt became “Design a sign for the roof of your restaurant that advertises it.” To accomplish this, I introduced these first graders to Easel and the Carvey from Inventables.

A quick introduction to the CNC designing website gave these first graders the only incentive they needed to get going. This introduction included how to get the machine set up for the material that it would be using (ie Material, Bit Size, X, Y, and Z), how to add text, and what red highlights meant on the rendering side of the screen.

That was it.

There was no discussion on what the handles around the objects would do. There was no discussion on where words should go. Nothing was said about how to delete words.

Those were just the questions I asked. Which prompted students to try and answer them, and to ask their own questions.

I didn’t answer any of them.

I just asked, “How will you find out?”

“By tinkering!” they responded.

And with that, off they went to explore how Easel worked. They were asked not to work on their signs specifically yet. They were to try and make something that would help them learn how to operate Easel. This exploratory tinkering took about 10 minutes, though it seemed like much less because of all the shouts of excitement as they made discoveries and shared their findings.

I gathered the students back to the center, and asked them who had discovered an answer to one of the questions we asked. I then asked about specific questions, just looking for a hand in the air, that students has discovered an answer to. With hands still raised, I let the students know that if they hadn’t discovered what that feature of Easel did… yet, then those classmates that had their hands raised should be the ones they ask first.

I returned the build permits that we had used the day before, and let them know that now was the time to sketch out what their restaurant signs might look like. Now that they had played with Easel for a bit, they had a better sense of what was possible for signs, including fonts, rotations and positions. I showed them an example of a sign that I had designed in Easel in case they needed a concrete example to kick start their work.

Once they had an idea sketched out, they got back onto their computers to try and model their idea digitally. When someone got stuck, students stepped up to help out. They checked one another’s work to look for red lines and to make sure nothing was in the pink Smart Clamp zone. Work was saved automatically, which led to new conversations on how files are saved electronically.

One step at a time, the signs began to become more real! It was impressive to see how sophisticated the designs could be, considering this was the first time – at least with me – that they had used a computer for designing and manipulating digitally, which included moving objects around, resizing, selecting and deleting. And these are some of the biggest struggles my novice adult makers often have! :-)

It was a very good day of making.

Your turn. Any thoughts to share?