Interactive Displays

When I interviewed for my job they took me on a tour of the school. I was struck by the five enormous tanks they have in the middle division science lab, and I wondered about the different organisms that lived within. 

When I was hired one of my first thoughts was to collaborate with a science teacher to build displays to identify the animals in the tanks so everyone could learn more about them. I found a willing collaborator in 7th grade science!

I started by designing 3D printed brackets in Tinkercad. These brackets would clamp onto the window uprights in the hallways outside of the science room (the tanks are visible from both inside the lab and in the hallways). 

The beams were made from 36 inch balsa, which is light and flexible. A second bracket was added to make sure the beam did not flex too much.

The original display was prototyped in cardboard. It contained a paper circuit switch that closed when the photo of the organism was pressed. When the circuit closed an LED in the bottom the box lit up.

Once the prototype proved to work, I went to the Columbia University Maker Space to use their laser cutter to fabricate boxes from wood. I used to generate a PDF of the box. The second prototype was fabricated the same size as the cardboard box.

Mounting the wooden box on the beam revealed that the box was too far from the windows, causing the beams to flex too much. Considering the amount of use the boxes might need to withstand, I redesigned the brackets to hold the beam closer to the window. I also revised the box design, reducing the depth to one inch.

After leaving the display in place for a couple of weeks, the beams were not holding up to the daily use. I decided to double up the beams during construction.

The seventh grade researched the organisms that reside in the tanks and wrote short paragraphs about them using a prompt.

I pushed into the class and helped the students assemble the boxes. They started by building the circuit in the box then finished by assembling the boxes. The beam ran through the back of each box, securing it to the beam.

The students measured the spaces between boxes to cut secondary beams. They were glued and clamped to the primary beam.

The switch has a piece of sheet protector glued to it. Since there are more organisms than boxes this allows the teacher to rotate the students' work into the displays.

Overall, this was a great hands-on project that improved the tanks immensely. The students worked hard on assembling the boxes and writing the informational text. The entire school benefits from the information!