We’re very excited to celebrate the three Grand Prize winners of this year’s Make It Real challenge. This year’s contest was directed at educators in New England interested in teaching their students how to make a difference through design.
Each of the three Grand Prize winners will receive makerspace tools based on their grade level: Elementary, Middle, and High School. The prize packages include an Ultimaker 3 3D Printer, Dremel DigiLab Laser Cutter (for high school,) and ten Chromebooks (for the elementary and middle schools.) In total, Autodesk is giving away over $30,000 in prizes to the three winners.
We received many impressive entries, demonstrating students’ innovation, communication, and technical skills in imagining how they could address real-world issues using design. After some careful consideration, we narrowed down the finalists to the following three Grand Prize winners. Here are the stories of their inspiring submissions:
Linden STEAM Academy
Elementary school teachers Laura Degelmann and Kathleen Carter and their students put their hearts into this project that helped them learn about empathy and compassion for others.
“The students were persuasive in convincing one another that it is important to make public spaces accessible for all, especially people who face challenges,” said Carter. “These designs are special because they truly incorporate features that the students felt strongly about in order to assist the needs of others, from ramps and elevators to playground equipment and countertops.”
Starting out with zero 3D design experience, soon the students’ sketches came to life using Tinkercad. “I watched as they figured things out, using what they learned from the Tinkercad training [included in the ‘Make for Everyone’ challenge,]” said Degelmann.
Carter added, “Sometimes their attempts didn’t work out as planned, but they persevered and tried a different approach. When I asked the students questions about their creations, they were able to explain how different things worked and how they made the individual additions to their designs. After a while, it was almost as if the students were teaching me how to use the program — as if our roles were reversed.”
According to Degelmann, most groups focused on people with physical differences, but they also considered non-English speakers and parents of babies.
The goal of accessibility was met by each group in different ways. For example, one group designed “wheel stairs” that work like a motorized ramp, as an alternative to traditional stairs, escalators, and elevators. Another group designed a hospital waiting room with counters and self-check-in stations at a height that wheelchair users can speak to the person on the other side with comfort.
These students presented a roller coaster with seats that adjust to fit people of all sizes and abilities.
“Their products challenge the status quo and what's happening now, because they really took the time to use empathy for people who aren't as lucky as they are in terms of their health and abilities,” said Carter. “I was very pleasantly surprised to see the end results of these designs and hear the meaningful discussions in which students would partake all along the designing process. They showed their creativity in many amazing ways!”
Jackson/Mann K-8 School
Through the Make It Green challenge, middle school teacher Chi Tran engaged her students in thinking about how to use design to address climate change.
Like Degelmann, Tran also was new to teaching Tinkercad this school year. She started out with a project that felt more familiar — designing a dream house — and scaffolded her students’ 3D design literacy from there. What made the process easier, according to Tran, were the new collections built into the Tinkercad shapes panel, like the OMSI Hangout Space models. “The students found the furniture on their own. I didn't know about it," said Tran, adding, "It has made the project so much easier for me in teaching Tinkercad for the first time, because it has enabled my most struggling students with a starting point for feeling successful."
Once her students experienced the satisfaction of going from mind to design with the house project, they were ready to tackle the tougher, more open-ended challenge of inventing an object or space that would promote sustainability. Some students reimagined the built environment and explored issues of environmental justice in their own neighborhoods.
Many of their designs reflected a curiosity about how robots could help — for example, the ocean-cleaning concept depicted below.
When Tran discovered her students’ interest in robotics, she invited a robotics expert into her classroom from MassRobotics, an independent, non-profit innovation hub for robotics and connected devices, to deepen her students’ understanding about how robots work. For example, the student who designed the underwater robot was encouraged to research the concept of soft robotics in order to think about how the cleaning gripper could avoid harming ocean life.
Khalif Mitchell, STEM Lead at MassRobotics, also discussed the function behind different robotics forms with students. He asked them to consider questions like: Why would a robot designer choose to make a robot look human-like? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of this design?
Mitchell of MassRobotics provides feedback to a Jackson/Mann student on his design.
This robot would do the dirty work of cleaning bird droppings off solar panels to improve efficiency.
Casco Bay High School
For the Make Justice challenge, high school teacher Anne Loughlin led her students in researching issues of poverty, disaster relief, and affordable housing.
“They did research to see what was out there currently. We looked at the XPrize site on the future of housing to understand the innovations that are currently on their way to the marketplace,” said Loughlin. “We continually looked at meeting the needs of the users of these products. We started with the empathy resources that were provided [in the ‘Make Justice’ challenge.] After creating their initial sketches, we did a tuning protocol where they got feedback from peers on their designs.”
Loughlin encouraged students to design for the context of their oceanside community — resulting in innovative ideas such as the tidally-influenced generator depicted above.
Her students used a variety of Autodesk tools, such as Formit for affordable housing design and Fusion 360 to visualize concepts such as a portable, solar-powered heater for the homeless population, and a caddy for collecting gray water.
“I think as much as possible, [the students] tended to think about their projects in the context of our community, Portland, and what they have seen and experienced. Our school serves a large immigrant community,” said Loughlin, whose students include refugees fleeing violence and persecution.
“Issues of poverty are part of daily life for many of my students,” added Loughlin. “This also provides a personal perspective on the needs of the user.”
Designs like this emergency shelter made from shipping containers had personal meaning for students whose families had emigrated as refugees.
Congratulations to the winners!
We’d like to give a huge and sincere thanks to everyone who participated in the Autodesk Make It Real challenge. We can’t wait to see what these incredible and ambitious students go on to design and make at their school.
Inspired by how these students dreamed a different world through design? To learn more about how to replicate these design challenges with your students, check out these lessons.
You might also consider joining this upcoming distance learning opportunity with your students about designing and building for sustainability.