November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Student-Designed Maker Cart

Diana Rendina’s students conceived the Stewart Storage Cart.

A design challenge is one of my favorite ways to spark student creativity in maker spaces. At Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL, I held a new design challenge with our after-school Makers Club about once a month. Usually, it focused on a particular theme or material. Sometimes we held a video conference to share our projects with another school. Other times we created videos about our projects and posted them to YouTube. One thing I hadn’t yet done, however, was connect my students with someone who could give them authentic feedback on their projects from an industry perspective. That changed with Custom Educational Furnishings (CEF) and the furniture design challenge.

In January 2017, I received an email from Nichol Lancaster at CEF. The company was getting into creating furnishings for maker space environments, and she wanted to know if I could meet her at the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando. We met and talked about our vision for the maker movement in schools, some of the types of projects my students created, and what it takes to support a creative learning environment. Her idea was for Stewart Middle students to test and give feedback on a sample furniture piece from CEF. But then, we thought of a twist that would be much more meaningful for the students and for the company. Instead of just having my students test and give feedback on a piece of furniture, why not have them design their own? Thus, the furniture design challenge was born.

Students’ whiteboard sketch of
their cart concept

The furniture design challenge

A few weeks after the conference, I introduced the challenge to my students. I described CEF and explained how the employees were interested in our ideas for furniture for maker spaces and that they would be coming to our school to give feedback on our designs. Most exciting of all, CEF would choose one of our designs, manufacture it as a part of their line, donate it to the school, and let us name it. Needless to say, the kids were super excited.

The prompt was simple. I asked my students to come up with a design for a piece of furniture that could help another school start a maker space in their library (or in a classroom). The only rule was that it had to be at least somewhat realistic and feasible (one student wanted to put flamethrowers on a chair). We worked on the challenge during three after-school Makers Club sessions of an hour and a half each, but many students also came to the library to work on it during school, and some continued after the sessions were over.

The students started by sketching their ideas on butcher paper and on our whiteboard tables. They looked at our own space, talked to other students, and thought about what it takes to run a maker space in a school. They identified problems or issues that a piece of furniture could solve. There were sketches for a hot glue gun station that was battery powered and on wheels. Another created a storage cart that would sort your Perler beads for you. After brainstorming, the students began prototyping.

Some students prototyped their designs with LEGOs, K’nex, and cardboard. Others used Tinkercad and our brand-new MakerBot to design and print their furniture. We had storage carts, a Sphero charging cart, a table with K’nex built into the design, a table made to house a 3-D printer, and more.

The pitch session

After my students’ designs were ready, Lancaster and other employees of CEF came to the school. Students pitched their design ideas, answered questions, and got a real-life look at the furniture manufacturing process. Some showed off physical prototypes of their ideas. Others displayed their Tinkercad designs on our projector or showed brainstorm sketches. Lancaster explained how the furniture industry works, how they go from a prototype to a finished product, and what kinds of changes might have to be made to make something marketable. She was kind and encouraging to the students, and we all learned so much from the process.

Custom Educational Furnishings

The Stewart Storage Cart

CEF reviewed my students’ designs and eventually chose to produce a storage cart, designed by a group of boys. These students didn’t have their prototype ready, so they sketched their ideas on a whiteboard. They were able to explain their ideas and concept so well that Lancaster immediately understood the vision. She and her crew came back to Stewart and presented the students with their storage cart. The kids were blown away—and immediately started digging into the bins to see what they could store inside. It’s called the Stewart Storage Cart (although the boys liked the idea of calling it the H.O.T. cart, after their initials). The attractive, flexible cart has space for five storage bins with the option of internal dividers and lids. The sides have pegboard and hooks for storing tools. It won a Tech and Learning Best of Show Award at this year’s International Society for Technology in Education conference. CEF also created a video about the entire project.

The furniture design challenge became one of my students’ favorite projects of the year. Getting feedback from someone who is actually in the furniture industry was motivating and inspiring for them.

While it isn’t feasible to have a vendor partnership in every design challenge you hold in your maker space, there are other ways to get your students some authentic feedback. Consider hosting a video conference with someone in an industry related to your challenge. Find out if there are any parents or community members in related professions (engineers, scientists, artists, etc.) who might be willing to come in and give your students feedback. Remember, it’s ultimately about giving your students opportunities to design things that can express their creativity. Getting that authentic professional feedback just makes it even more meaningful.

Diana Rendina is a media specialist at Tampa (FL) Preparatory School, an independent facility that serves sixth through 12th graders. She is passionate about design, creativity, and getting kids engaged in making.

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Comments

  1. Hello,
    My name is Monica L. Walley and I am the Director of Norelius Community Library in Denison, IA. We are busy setting up an activity center maker space for the children within the library. We came across your student designed storage cart and were interested in the cost to designing,and making your cart. We may be interested in doing something similar here.

    Would love to hear back how the cart is functioning and the cost to put it together.

    Sincerely,

    Monica L. Walley

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