This past winter, Victoria and her mother wandered into DM+D after dinner one evening. After a quick tour and laser cutter demonstration, Victoria was hooked, and left determined to find a way to bring her 8th grade classmates at Garnet Valley Middle School to the space for a field trip. Her interest in and enthusiasm for DM+D convinced Victoria’s teacher, Renee Fledderman, to bring a large group of students to DM+D to get in touch with their inner maker. Several months later, these curious middle-schoolers spent the day learning the basics of circuitry, laser-cutting and power tools to construct their own light box.
As soon as they arrived, the group immediately got hands-on with a team-building activity. Mike Darfler tasked the students with building the tallest tower of plastic cups using only four strings and a rubber band—no hands allowed. With one minute to scrape a plan together and five minutes to build, the students collaborated with a competitive spirit. Building the tallest tower of plastic cups under a time crunch without touching them was no easy task. Amidst a flurry of false starts and tumbling cups, the students used their wit and creativity to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to build their towers. “I think their willingness to try new things…helped them to come up with more solutions to the problem,” says Darfler. “They were working as a team to come up with solutions that were different every time.” After completing three rounds of tower building—the last of which was a sudden-death race to the top—it was finally time to get making.
Fueled by excitement and energy, the students began building a customizable, functional, and durable light box that they would be able to personalize and take home. With just six pieces, assembling the light box seemed simple enough, yet it incorporated different elements of the ‘maker’ culture, such as electronics, digital fabrication, and power tools. Under the tutelage of Max Lawrence in the electronics area, students got their feet wet with basic circuitry. Equipped with the DIY-mentality and armed with copper tape, LEDs, and coin batteries, the students tackled what was, perhaps, one of the hardest tasks of the day—creating an electric circuit from scratch.
On top of learning the knowhow of circuitry, one of the unique things students were able to do at DM+D was add a personal touch to their creations by using a laser cutter to etch their names onto their light boxes. Unlike many traditional fabrication techniques that are designed to produce the exact same thing again and again, the laser cutter can make something different every time.
After students had completed assembling the circuitry and etching their phrases, they headed to DM+D’s power tools shop to get creative and experiment with different sizes of drill bits to make holes for the lights to shine through. Many students enjoyed the drilling process because they had the freedom to be innovative. Instead of just drilling random holes, some students chose to drill their initials, others created intricate constellations of pinholes, and some opted for random abstraction. In that room, there was no such thing as a mistake.
Once all the pieces were ready, students had just about enough time left to assemble their creations. The scramble for brushes and wood glue proved intense as students began hustling and bustling, determined to complete the project that they exhausted their efforts into before running out the door to catch the bus.
Between the tower-building frenzy, troubleshooting some circuitry and drilling, the students had fun and were able to gain some new skills. At the end of the day, the students went home, not just with a light box, but with a newfound creativity and the mindset of a maker. In just two hours, these talented 8th graders used their wit and creativity, worked on problem solving, and demonstrated perseverance and tech proficiency, which were ultimately reflected through their end product. When asked what they thought of the project, a student remarked, “I thought it was a really productive and creative field trip that caught my interest. I learned to keep my mind open to new ideas.”