MAKE Simple Machines with Upcycled Materials

Simple machines are an important science concept for students to explore because they can be observed in mechanisms all around us and can seem quite magical as they are used to make our routine tasks so much easier. Whether individually exploring the basic simple machines (wheel and axle, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, inclined plane, linkages, etc.) to understand their practical uses or combining them to create an outlandish Rube Goldberg machine, simple machines are super fun to experiment with.

We like to begin by discussing simple machines and doing some hands-on explorations of existing examples (i.e. window blinds, door stoppers and ramps, door knob, etc). You can add challenge by doing a scavenger hunt type inquiry activity where you give students 5-10 minutes to locate and identify as many simple machines as they can in the room. Having them create quick drawings of the mechanisms using arrows to illustrate force and movement also helps them to understand and communicate the basic science principles that allow the simple machine to function.

Once a working knowledge of simple machines is established you can move on to the magic of building mechanisms. We like to make ours out of recyclable materials, such as cardboard. It’s a great way to show students how they can transform and “upcycle” materials that were going to be thrown away. We collect useful recyclable materials all year for these types of projects and you’d be surprised how quickly you can amass an invaluable collection of unique objects that are just waiting for a new “life”.

Gather Materials:

Cardboard is our number one favorite material so we save almost all of our shipping boxes and pantry boxes (cereal boxes, cracker boxes, tissue boxes, etc.). We also like collecting empty toilet paper tubes, empty paper towel tubes, plastic soda bottles, plastic caps, plastic apple sauce and yogurt cups, plastic berry containers, egg cartons, and coffee canisters. It is super important that all of the plastic materials are rinsed and air dried otherwise they grow mold or attract ants (and that really isn’t the goal of this science experiment). 🙂

We also purchase inexpensive new items like popsicle sticks, toothpicks, straws (plain, bendable, smoothie, etc.), and bamboo skewers (cost about $1 per package). Though these items are technically new, they are important tools for adding increased functionality to our upcycled materials because they easily become axles and structural supports.

Try some of our Simple Machine activities:

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

AET Makerspace at NAEA 2016

We had an amazing time presenting an interactive makerspace at NAEA! Participants got a chance to discover 8 engaging makerspace activity stations that explored new media, engineering, and computer science. They got to learn to create with arduinos, 3D printers, sewable circuits, free design software, etc. Here is the list of all 8 presenters’ resources. We hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as we did and that it provided inspiration to take back to your own art classrooms! Thanks to the ArtEdTech (AET) group for sponsoring the session!

soft_circuit sewncircuits3  snapcircuits

3D Digitization: Creating Virtual Copies of 3D Objects

Though academic institutions and museums are using costly 3D scanning equipment for their photogrammetry and 3D digitization efforts (see previous post), there are several free 3D scanning apps that allow users to capture photos taken 360 degrees around and object and easily generate virtual copies and 3D models on their own.

Autodesk 123d Catch
Autodesk 123d Catch is a free app for smartphones and tablets that allows you to create 3D scans of virtually any object. With built in guidance, it helps you set up proper lighting and provides advice for how to ensure 360 degree capture of the object. Once the object has been captured, you can upload to the Autodesk 123d cloud to share or download the free mesh-editing software to your computer for further editing and refinement of your 3D virtual model. The resulting file can be embedded into a website for virtual exploration or can be sent directly to a 3D printer.

Classroom integration example of Autodesk 123d Catch. Create a 3D scan capture of a 3D object found during an outdoor inquiry. *Bonus extension: upload the 3D model with an observation to iNaturalist and become a citizen scientist who shares with the global community.

Autodesk Recap
Similarly, Autodesk Recap allows you to capture 3D scans of an object, but has the added ability to leverage video as well. This “point cloud software” allows users to easily plan, measure, and visualize with advanced measurement as they can capture 3D objects and geographic sites, such as architectural layouts. Simply download the free software to a PC or Mac computer and upload digital photos or digital video files.

Classroom integration example of Autodesk Recap. Attach a digital camera (SLR, Smartphone, or GoPro) to a remote controlled helicopter drone to create a scan capture of your school campus and convert the capture into augmented reality.

*Note: this post is part of a roundtable with Dr. Jason Trumble and Claudia Grant presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference. Click here to view the full paper.

3D Digitization: Exploring Virtual 3D Models

Huge paradigm shifts in museum culture are underway as a variety of institutions are engaging in 3D digitization to democratize their collections through the digitization of priceless artifacts and bringing access to the masses (Milroy & Rozefelds, 2015). Scientists in the fields of anthropology and paleontology have been using photogrammetry techniques to capture and record measurements of physical objects, but technological advancements now enable high quality digital scanning with specialized hardware, such as the Makerbot Digitizer (costs approximately $800) and the NextEngine 3D scanner (costs approximately $3,000).

Once the files are converted to virtual 3D models, they are made available on a variety of websites where you can access the files to download (as .stl formatted files) or explore within interactive 3D viewers.  This allows you to not only have access to the digital file (to print a physical copy of on your own) but it allows you to virtually interact with the 3d model on your own computer screen. Imagine being able to explore priceless artifacts that are typically hidden behind glass enclosures at a museum on the other side of the world or explore fossilized remains of ancient creatures found during a research excavation.

Smithsonian X 3D
Smithsonian X 3D is a 3D model database allows anyone with an Internet connection access to Smithsonian’s most renowned artifacts. You can explore a variety of virtual models by rotating the items, isolating different components of them, measuring them with built-in tools and creating specific views that can be shared over social media or embedded on a website or blog post just like a video. Additionally you can explore “tours” of select artifact collections and archaeological sites that are complete with 3D models, expert-written text, and additional resources.

Classroom integration example of Smithsonian X 3D. Take your students on a virtual tour of Cerro Ballena, Chile to learn more about whales ancestors by exploring Balaenopteridae fossils.

Duke University’s Morphosource is an image-sharing resource designed to allow users to upload, search, and browse high quality 3d models. is an online database of 3D models. Using the Creative Commons model, Morphosource encourages citizen scientist and the democratization of access to artifacts. As such, a variety of academic institutions and natural history musems are using Morphosource to facilitate collaboration, consolidate repository holdings, and provide access to the public.

Classroom integration example of Morphosource. Explore patterns in human evolution by comparing and contrasting virtual models of skeletal remains.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Digimorph is a lab that creates and shares 2D and 3D visualizations of the internal and external structure of living and extinct vertebrates, and a growing number of ‘invertebrates.’ Users can search a variety of specimens and explore virtual models and animations that detail the morphology of specimens in unique multimodal ways. With partnerships from a variety of academic institutions and paleontologists, Digimorph provides informative research publications with each specimen to deepen the potential learning.

Classroom integration example of Digimorph. Explore x-ray CT scans of various horned lizards and attempt to hypothesize reconstructions of what their ancestors may have looked like.

NASA 3D Models
Among the variety of data sets related to space exploration, NASA 3D Models contains a variety of 3D digitiazations of spacecraft, topographical maps, and plantary objects. Additionally, they have compiled several visualizations that allow users to explore landforms.

Classroom integration example of NASA 3D Models. Explore the impact that volcanic lava flows has on the near and far side of the moon’s surface.

Milroy, A. A., & Rozefelds, A. C. (2015). Democratizing the collection: Paradigm shifts in and through museum culture. Australasian Journal Of Popular Culture, 4(2/3), 115-130.

*Note: this post is part of a roundtable with Dr. Jason Trumble and Claudia Grant presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference. Click here to view the full paper.