A student peers through the gear section of their project.

STEM Labs like the one at W.W. Estes Elementary School are idea factories where kids bring classroom lessons to life through problem-based learning.
Recently, Estes STEM teacher Lynne Haynes challenged her third graders to develop “cardboard automata” – moving sculptures that illustrate mechanical concepts like gears and levers. The students cut cardboard cam gears into different shapes and used wooden skewers to place the gears inside cardboard boxes. A horizontal skewer attached to a crank and cam, while a vertical skewer attached to a separate gear and figure atop the box, situated in front of a background scene. Different cam gear shapes created different motions, from twirling ballerinas to a boat rocking back and forth on the sea.
“I love how STEM Lab creates ways for the kids to synergize, to learn how to listen to each other’s ideas,” Ms. Haynes said. “And this project mixed in art, because they’re making a moving scene that shows something they find beautiful.”
Third graders Nevin, Wesley, and Ella showed off a kangaroo automata that hopped using an oval cam.
“You make a plan, and then you do it,” said Nevin, who drew an Australian Outback scene for the kangaroo. “I like how you’re free to do whatever you want.”
“By little pieces and little steps, it starts to work,” Ella added.

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