Designer Robots!


Cardboard is my favorite material. It's cheap, recyclable, and versatile. There is nothing else I rather use in a making challenge than cardboard. So when I recently hosted a school wide design challenge for my students I immediately went with this favorite material of mine.

For this challenge, I wanted the students to have a pure design challenge. I wanted them to experience designing something that would allow their imagination to run free while also being collaborative. I was aiming for the outcomes from each team to be different from each other, yet still have a recognizable form that would still relate all of them. In the end I chose robots, yes robots! I love robots and I don't know any kid, young or old, who doesn't. So with that sorted, I began to plan the event.

First, I thought of what I call "The Maker 3." That is, the three components of any make; materials, tools, and connectors." Cardboard would be the building material of course. I gave them 5 cardboard boxes in different shapes and sizes. Although every team had the same set of 5 to make it fair. I also gave them several flat sheets. I had collected them over time and flattened them out for easy storage. What I didn't have, I bought at Home Depot. It was also important to me that all the boxes were clean and structurally sound.

Next, came the tools. I gave them a tool box that included cutting utensils such as cardboard snips, regular scissors, and box cutters. I also gave them several pairs of regular scissors for the paper I would give them to decorate their creations and measuring tools such as measuring tapes and rulers.

Finally, I also included several connectors, or ways of glueing everything together. For this, I gave them packing tape, duct tape, clear tape, white clue, and hot glue as well. Since the structural integrity of the final piece was important, I gave them several options for glueing or taping their designs together. I gave them one roll of each and one bottle of the white glue. I also gave them 12 sticks of hot glue, and of course the glue gun. Since it was a design challenge, plenty of graph paper and pencils were on hand as well.

All the materials and tools I gave each them would allow each team to make the basic structure. Any decorative element would have to be picked out at the store, which I set up next door. The store had many of the "extras" that would make their robot come to life with character. This included paper, foil, extra cardboard, paints, foam, and anything else I could find laying around the Makerspace. It was a good opportunity to clean out the space of all the odds and ends I haven't used in a while. The store also had different kinds of lighting kits to make their robots unique.

At the start of the challenge I drew numbers to find the order the teams ( I called them Robo Teams) were going to enter the store. Each team would have 7 visits to the store in total in the order of the drawing. On each visit, one member from each team could choose only 1 item. The first visit was just to scout out the store and report back to the team. That member could bring a camera phone to take pictures. Then, I would call out numbers at intervals throughout the challenge.

After the scouting trip, the challenge began. Each team had 2 hours to make the best robot structure they could. Afterwards, the judging began while the students were on break. It was really fun and the students designed really surprising robots! Each had their own distinct personality and style. Guess who won?

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Rick Funes

PO Box 141166

Coral Gables, Florida 33114-4445