A Mechatronic Skier

We here at MakeToLearn continually strive to push the envelope. Thus, we present to you, a 3D / 2D Fabricated Mechatronic Skier!

We were inspired by a gingerbread house competition in one of the offices at the UVa. What better way to enhance a gingerbread house than with an automaton that cross-country skis powered by a stepper motor and an Arduino?

fabricated skier

A skier that combines 2D and 3D fabrication and mechatronics

Click here to watch a video / hear a description.

Here are the components:

Hardware in the Design:

  • Arduino Uno (necessary wires are included)
  • Modkit Shield
  • Small Stepper Motor
  • Cardstock


NOTE: All files have been renamed to TXT files. Download and alter the file extensions to STL, STUDIO, and PDE as necessary.
Hardware required for Fabrication:

  • Inkjet Printer
  • 3D Printer
  • Silhouette Cardstock Die Cutter


Posted in Uncategorized

Crafty Mechatronics

Ken Murphy, a self-proclaimed tinkerer and author of Blinky Bugs, recently teamed up with Radio Shack and Popular Mechanics to produce a series of videos that feature crafty, mechatronics-esque projects. All of the videos are well-produced, but Ken says that the videos aren’t currently linked to a parts list or instructions (these are apparently coming soon).

  • Blinky Bugs: Cute spiders that have blinking eyes that are controlled by moving antennae
  • Atari Punk: An analog digital synthesizer that makes different sounds when twisting knobs
  • LED Art: A framed light art piece that displays an ever-changing color pattern
  • Soft Circuit: A wearable scarf that blinks when turned on


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Water Wells for Africa: A Shared Class Experience

Photo: Enno Schröder, Uganda 2010

To anchor the Water Wells for Africa Transmedia Book project in a shared experience, the fourth-grade students took part in a Water Walk.

The lesson began with a short discussion about volume and measurement. We discussed the meaning of the term volume as well as different units used to measure volume (for example: gallons, quarts, cups, liters, and millilitres).

The children looked at a wide range of measuring containers (including graduated cylinders, measuring cups, bottles, cups, and spoons). The discussion also touched on: metric units compared to standard units, the proper way to read liquid measurements (read when the container is level, not tilted), the difference (and similarities) between volume in a liquid capacity context and volume in a sound context. Children were then invited to choose a container, fill it with water and proceed outside. Read more ›

Posted in MakeToLearn site

Making Stuff

If I had to identify two people that I might ask to teach me a thing or two about “making stuff,” it would be Slater Harrison and Arvind Gupta. Both Slater and Arvind have a lot of pertinent, in expensive ideas for STEM-related activities that feature “hands-on” work with materials.

Slater Harrison (aka, The Science Toy Maker) offers the following activities on his website, Science Toy Maker:

  • Static Electricity Flyers: The scientific magic of hovering grocery bags seems like a fun way to explain static electricity and positive/negative charges.
  • Walkalong Gliders: Explore aerodynamic lift with gliders that seem to never land.
  • Put-Put Boats: Although metal cans, scissors, and fire are potential hazards, building a put-put boat connects to physics and steam engines. Plus it is pretty cool.

Arvind Gupta talked about his creations during a TED talk, and he provides examples and instructions on his Toys from Trash page:

  • Straw Pump: Build a simple water pump using straws, beads, and small metal balls.
  • Floating Forks: Can you make two forks balance on a toothpick? Arvind can show you how…
  • Paper Protractor: Create more than a dozen different angles by folding a square sheet of paper.
Posted in Making

Questions Are Important

This post is also available on the Edu180Atl blog.

I don’t know Anthony Petrosino. Yet, Anthony taught me a powerful lesson today: Asking students the right type of question is extremely important.

Anthony was what some might consider a progressive science teacher. He pushed the envelope by incorporating hands-on, project-based lessons that were highly engaging for students. One such project was entitled “Mission to Mars” that involved building and launching model rockets. Students loved the project, and the local media attended many launchings.

When Anthony asked students what they learned from the experience, their responses troubled him. A typical student reply to a question about the purpose of the project was “You know, to build [the rockets] and see how high they will go” (Barron et al., 1998, p. 274). Absent were the types of reflections that revolved around what Anthony wanted students to know and understand: experimentation and the science of flight. Nevertheless, many outside observers commended his efforts, in part, due to obvious student enthusiasm and eye-popping launchings.

Anthony was unsatisfied with what students learned during the first iterations of the “Mission to Mars” project. In subsequent years, he began asking students driving questions that focused on engineering design and the scientific method. Questions like, “Does a rocket with three wings fly higher than one with four? How can you test this?” He found that students were not only engaged, but they also learned far more curricular content.

Anthony’s story was personally illustrative of the point that driving questions matter. I believe that asking the “right” driving questions matter even more. What questions are you asking? Why?

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“Messy Glory” — A Case for Tinkering

In an article published in Time online, Annie Murphy Paul lays out a clear, compelling case for tinkering, and its ability to help children learn to think better:

If we want more young people to choose a profession in one of the group of crucial fields known as STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — we ought to start cultivating these interests and skills [making and tinkering] early…. Tinkering… involves a loose process of trying things out, seeing what happens, reflecting and evaluating, and trying again. As Sylvia Martinez, a learning expert who spoke about the value of tinkering at a meeting of the National Council of Women in Information Technology earlier this year, puts it: “Tinkering is the way that real science happens, in all its messy glory.”

You can read the full piece here.

The study referenced in the article is “Exploring the Effectiveness of an Interdisciplinary Water Resources Engineering Module in an Eighth Grade Science Course” by Jody L. Riskowski, Carrie Davis Todd, Bryan Wee, Melissa Dark, and Jon Harbor, published in the International Journal of Engineering Education, volume 25, number 1.

(Image via)

Posted in Making

Problem Solving: The Heart of Pop-ups

Creating a simple pop-up like the one shown provides a motivating and memorable way for students to integrate problem solving and math skills.

For example, in creating this pop-up, students consider:

Measurement: How big can the pop-up be without protruding beyond the edge when the card is folded? Can you figure out a rule?

Symmetry vs. asymmetry: Does it matter if the design is symmetrical? Why or why not? Choose a design and tell whether it’s symmetrical or asymmetrical, then predict whether the design will work as a centerfold pop-up. Experiment to see if you’re right.

Parallel Lines and Angles: The pop-up is attached at both sides. Do the side fold lines need to be parallel to each other? Do they need to be parallel to the centerfold? How will the pop-up pop if the lines are not parallel? Play around and see what you discover!

As students think through and construct even a simple pop-up, they apply math and problem solving skills. Pop-ups are also a great way to integrate these skills across the curriculum as students respond to literature, write creatively, or plan projects in science, social studies, and other subjects. Many pop-up projects can be fabricated by hand, making it easy for teachers to use these activities with their students.

Posted in Examples

Welcome to MakeToLearn.org

"Build the Future"

Welcome to MakeToLearn.org, your online community dedicated to encouraging “making” as a strategy to transform teaching and learning in schools. Over the next two months, MakeToLearn.org will swell with information, including instructional videos, a discussion forum, print-ready lesson plans, a design library, and an online curricular space, via our innovative WISEngineering platform. While we finalize the front-end looks and back-end functionality of these features, you may notice a little “dust” around the site, but we are confident that all systems will be go by the fall semester.

In the meantime, please feel free to head to our forums and begin or participate in a discussion. As the MakeToLearn.org community grows, so will the benefits of participation, both for educators and their students. Together, we can impact the future of education in a meaningful and positive way, through powerful, effective, and engaging hands-on learning.

(image via)

Posted in MakeToLearn site

Polar Coordinate Drawing Robot

Polargraph portraitA Polargraph is a polar coordinate drawing machine developed by Sandy Noble. It uses string, pens, and an arduino to create unique drawings.






Posted in Tools

Digital Fabrication and Children’s Engineering

Digital fabrication involves translation of a digital design into a physical object. There is an intrinsic satisfaction in creation of a physical object. Digital fabrication makes it possible to replicate and share digital designs. The site www.DigitalFabrication.org was established to facilitate and support this type of collaboration. This digital fabrication blog provides a space to share ideas related to this topic.

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This is the blog for MakeToLearn. This blog will keep you up-to-date with the latest information about digital fabrication in education.