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First Annual Build
Annual Build is an event designed to tap into the growing popularity of the Maker movement among American middle school and high school students. Cornell Engineering students contact teachers from their high schools and arrange a day when they can visit the teacher and spend time leading a class in a Maker-themed lesson.
Just after graduating from Cornell Engineering in May 2016, Alice Meng ’16 CS went back to high school.
But she had a good reason. Meng, from Lewisburg, PA returned to her old school to take part in the inaugural edition of Cornell Engineering’s Annual Build. Annual Build is an event designed to tap into the growing popularity of the Maker movement among American middle school and high school students. Cornell Engineering students contact teachers from their high schools and arrange a day when they can visit the teacher and spend time leading a class in a Maker-themed lesson.
When Meng went to Lewisburg High it was the last day of school, so their schedule was not what it would be on a typical school day. Meng set up shop in the auditorium with the help of a chemistry teacher and the school’s principal. She then led 27 students in an activity using littleBits kits. LittleBits are electronic building blocks that snap together with magnets, so there is no soldering, wiring, or programming needed to create remote control cars, internet-enabled devices for your home, or whatever other inventions you can think up. For Meng’s lesson, the students worked in small groups to build and test remote control 2-wheel cars. After they successfully built and drove their cars, the groups had time to work on their own ideas.
It was not just the high school students who enjoyed the day. “I had a fun and rewarding experience,” says Meng. “It was inspiring to see how enthusiastic the students were about building things and to see them trying out how all the different bits worked on their own.” Given time to explore the possibilities, the Lewisburg students made a “mischief machine” for pulling pranks, a 4-wheel drive remote control car, rotating lamps, and something the inventors called an ‘art spinner.’ “My favorite was definitely the art spinner,” says Meng. “It combined technology and art to create something really beautiful.”
A week after Meng’s visit to Lewisburg High, another Annual Build event was held much closer to Cornell at Lansing High School in Lansing, NY. David Schneider, director of M.Eng. studies in Systems Engineering at Cornell, led this activity himself. Schneider, who created the lesson plan for the Annual Build activity, has a sister who is a physics teacher in Lansing. When she heard about the Annual Build idea, she jumped at the chance to have her brother in to lead the activity on the last day of school.
There were 15 students in Andrea Schneider’s first period physics class and when they arrived in the classroom they found boxes of electronic building blocks at their tables and a figure-eight cardboard racetrack laid out on the floor in the middle of the room. David Schneider spoke with the class about the Maker movement for a few minutes and then the students got to work building remote control cars. As each group of two or three finished their car, they would then time themselves as their car completed one lap around the track. It soon became clear that students who played video games in their spare time had an advantage over their classmates who do not. Each group’s car made it around the track, a winner was declared, and then the students got some time to play around with their own ideas.
“I think the morning went very well,” says Andrea Schneider. “The students were engaged. They all got their cars to work and they definitely enjoyed the event. One student came back at the end of the day and stated that it was a ‘blast—so much fun.’ He loved the Annual Build tee shirt so much he changed into it and wore it the rest of the day.”
If all goes well, these two school visits will be the first of many for years to come as the Annual Build becomes an established tradition, helping to spread the ideas of the Maker Movement and at the same time get out the good word about Cornell Engineering.