A student design a product in the How to Make Almost Anything Course

Students are becoming inventors, artists and creators as part of their learning in the “How to Make Almost Anything” course at Spring Lake Park High School (SLPHS).

After benchmarking the design of the course after similar districts in the area, the How to Make Almost Anything course was implemented into the SLPHS curriculum at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. This one-trimester elective course provides a hands-on introduction to the initial foundations of engineering and the SLP 3D (Discover, Design, Deliver) Design Process.

“This class is so different than a traditional class because it is very hands-on and we have a lot more freedom,” said SLPHS junior Josh Archibong. “We have the freedom to choose what we want to make based on what we like or what’s important to us and then be creative in how we design our product.”

At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, about 180 students in grades 9-12 will have used human-centered design, engineering principles and cutting-edge technology to create prototypes of practical solutions to problems that people face every day.

Student 3D Design products, including an elephant, a pencil holder a bee hive and a unicorn

There are three main pieces of technology used in the class, which include five 3D Design printers, a vinyl cutting machine and a laser cutting machine. Students also use software programs including Illustrator and Inventor to take their drawn designs and digitalize them. The printers and cutters can then read the files to create the student’s prototype.

For example, a student might sketch out what they want a keychain to look like. They then take the design and create it digitally in Illustrator, which then the 3D printer can read the file to create the physical keychain.

“I don’t do a lot of formal instruction in this class,” said SLPHS STEM teacher Karen Kutz. “I mainly support students as they play and learn. From posters, signs and logos to keychains, USB holders and iPad/iPhone charging stations, each student gets to make items that are interesting to them, which helps bring out their creativity and willingness to try new things. It is really amazing what these kids come up with and how their brains work.”

Students go through four units during the course of a trimester. The units start off fairly simple, and then develop in difficulty over time. For each unit, students must define a problem, brainstorm possible solutions, figure out ways to fix the problem and then test and verify the solution to their problem.

  • Unit one: Make something for themselves
  • Unit two: Make something for someone else
  • Unit three: Solve a problem for something in their living environment.
  • Unit four: Solve a problem in the school. Starting next school year, students will be able to solve any problem they can think of during this unit.   

Along with channeling one’s creativity, understanding the SLP 3D Design process is one the course’s biggest measures of success.

A SLPHS student designing a product in Illustrator

“In today’s world, especially in STEM related fields, understanding the design process and learning those critical skills is incredibly important,” Kutz said. “While taking this course, I want students to find a need in society, figure out innovative ways to meet that need, make and design the product, test it and then go back and adjust if need be. If they can grasp this process, while also having fun, then I’m happy.”

For SLPHS senior Alyxis Dawkins, the best part of this class is getting to sketch out her designs while thinking of new products that might be helpful for herself or for someone else, but it does come with some challenges.

“While I love thinking of new products, I do find the computer programs pretty challenging,” Alyxis said. “It can be frustrating, but it is also a good kind of challenge because I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and practicing skills where I can improve.”

Archibong said going through the design steps and seeing the end result of a product he physically made to create something that is fun or that can be useful to himself or others is gratifying.

“Rather than a grade on a paper or assignment, I see the physical result of my work, which is really rewarding,” Archibong said.

A SLPHS student drawing a volleyball from and iPad image
A 3D design USB holder with seven USB drives in the slots
SLPHS STEM teacher Karen Kutz helping two students with their design products