Time for Personal Projects

As the calendar year comes to an end, I write this one last post to share the importance of making and creativity for one’s own personal growth and satisfaction. As maker educators, we spend a good deal of time working with students on their journeys into design, building, invention, and exploration. It is equally important, however, that we take the time to pursue our own projects, learn new skills, and feed our curiosity.

One of my recent personal projects is inspired by the Cuboro marble run blocks, created by Swiss mechanic and educator Matthias Etter. A colleague of mine received some of these kits as a donation to the school and I had the opportunity to try them out during one of our “Invitations to Play” at a recent school event. As anyone who has seen previous posts of mine can attest, I have a fascination for marble runs, Rube Goldberg machines, automata, and other mechanical puzzles and games. I was instantly intrigued by this simple, yet open-ended, creative activity.

After playing with these blocks for just a few minutes, it seemed a logical next step for me to design something similar using Tinkercad or Fusion 360 and a printer. I wanted a smaller form factor to avoid using too much filament, and to make the project easily portable. Here are some of my initial designs.

Because of the light weight of these 3D printed parts, particularly when printed with only a slight infill, a design element was required to allow them to interlock for increased stability. Thus, I added small protruding domes in each top corner, with equivalent indentations on the bottom corners. You can see these domes in the images above. Add to this a flat platform with its own set of domes and I have a foundation on which to build, as seen here:


What I loved about playing Cuboro was the fact that there were limitless combinations of cubes and stacks that could be assembled to create the marble run. Aside from the grid size of the platform here, I hope that same sense of openness is present in these 3D printed cubes. What makes these cubes even more open-ended, for me and for my students, is the ability to design and print new cubes that can enhance the experience and instill a sense of ownership in the design process.

As a final note, I am working on a strategy to get that marble back up to the top in order to have an auto-repeating marble run. One manner of performing such action is through the use of an Archimedes screw, something other marble runs have displayed in projects on Youtube. Here is my working prototype:

This process has been quite enjoyable and continues to fill my desire for learning. There is more progress to be had, and the pursuit of that will lead me into the new year. I hope that you find a personal project to take on in the coming year. The more we grow, the better teachers we become. Happy New Year!

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