Friday, August 28, 2015

Chariot Challenge

For our first project of the school year, the girls made chariots to go along with our study of ancient Sumer. Our process is very different than that commonly used for projects: instead of giving them a set of directions and a pile of supplies that I bought in advance, I gave them a single image:

One afternoon last week, the girls and I went to the craft store. They brought along their picture for reference, and I gave them a few other guidelines they had to follow:
  1. They had a budget of $10 each.
  2. They had a time limit of 20 minutes.
  3. They had to use at least three different media.
  4. They could use items from our art cupboard at home.

It did not take long for the girls to reach the conclusion that they could purchase a wider variety of items if they pooled their resources. This discovery led to baggies of wooden wheels, wooden stars and several sticks that were long enough for both. That was when they realized they had a problem. Too much wood, not enough variety in their media used. They considered spending a good chunk on some thin copper sheet metal, but could not think of a way to attach it to the base--and what to use as a base? They found some paper mache boxes that were a nice oval shape. They were the perfect size, and easily cut down to the chariot's body shape.

The most difficult part for me is always leading them to workable ideas without giving them mine. This comes from asking lots of questions. Sometimes, if they are a little overwhelmed by all the choices, I will direct them to a certain aisle and ask them what they see that might be helpful.

In the end, they used some very diverse media, including paper mache, wood, decorative wire, and paint.

On project day, the girls assembled their purchases and items from home and got busy. Like most any project, some things, such as the first steps of cutting the chariot bodies out of the paper mache boxes and painting them, went as planned. As with the purchasing phase, I did not tell them what to do or give them a set of directions. They looked at the picture and thought through their own designs.

Things got a bit trickier when it came to attaching the axle (the girls used barbecue skewers) and the wheels. Reagan's original idea was to glue a fixed axle to the bottom of her chariot, affix a star to each of the chariot's sides just above the axle to keep the wheels from rubbing all along the chariot's sides, and then hot glue another star on the outer edge of the axle to keep the wheel from falling off. Unfortunately, she cut her axle too short, and when she glued on the outer star, it became attached to the wheel, preventing it from rolling. I asked how she felt about the idea of trying to detach the axle and cut a new one. She weighed two thoughts: did she want to waste supplies✴︎ and would pulling off the axel ruin her paper mache chariot base. She came to the conclusion that whether or not the wheels rotated did not matter to her and she did not want to risk ruining her main body of the chariot.

✴︎This matters because the difference between what they spend and what their budget was goes into a fund towards a trip out for ice cream.

Chloe decided that she wanted to try something different from Reagan in how she attached her axel, so she pushed holes through the side walls of her chariot (using a cork screw) and threaded her skewer axel through. She purposely cut her axel long enough to borrow Reagan's idea (Reagan called it stealing!) to secure the wheels on the outside with a star that was glued in place on the axle with the hot glue gun. Instead of putting a star on the inside, Chloe thought that a rim of glue on the outside of the chariot body around the hole where the skewer came through would be more secure and would interfere less with the rotation of the wheels.

Something we all thought would be easy, cutting the skewers to length to be used as axels, ended up posing a problem to solve. The small saw we found in the garage had far too large a serration to work. Initially, Chloe was going to opt to wait until her older brother, Carter, could help her cut it with his camp saw. Reagan decided to try the technique of clamping the skewer in scissors and twirling the skewer, thus slowly working through the wood. It worked very well, and all that was needed was a few strokes of Reagan's nail file to give a smooth face on the tip of the skewer that would affix to the star. In the end, Chloe also used that technique, as it worked well and she did not want to wait to finish her project.

Both girls opted to use a flat, narrow dowel and tooth pick, which they bound together with jewelry wire, to form the shaft and yoke.

In the end, the girls were both very happy with their project. By not giving them a pre-selected group of supplies and step-by-step directions, the girls were able to create a project they took ownership of and which made them proud.
Chloe's Chariot

Reagan's Chariot

Using this method, where students are not given a supply list and written instructions, teaches them so much more. This model of project completion maximizes children's creativity and sharpens their critical thinking skills. They have to visualize, experiment with materials, and work through construction concepts (and problems) on their own. It is a model that is easily employed with any project you do. Simply give them the picture and let them decide on the materials and process of construction on their own. It is very important that you do not offer suggestions; use questions to guide them toward their own ideas.

1 comment:

  1. I remember this. My chariot is still on my dresser. Can't wait till we do edible architecture. -Reagan