Saturday, 14 July 2012

Understanding Gears by Design

 As a student, I have always found that I learn best by doing. Creating an authentic product that students can feel proud of will give them the confidence to take on their own projects in the future. It also becomes more meaningful to them. Answering questions from a textbook does not give a student much appreciation for what they have accomplished. Adding a 'Great Job!' sticker with a 100% in big bold letters  cannot compare to the feeling of accomplishment one experiences when one applies their knowledge to design a real product that they can then use. With this is mind, here is a fun way for students to learn about how gears work by designing a gear system of their own.

Group activity for the Grade 4 level
Designing a gear system using corrugated cardboard in groups of 3:
  •  Can use cardboard boxes to do this activity (key is that corrugated cardboard should have a length of 12 inches perpendicular to the lines of the corrugate lines à this is to ensure that gear ‘teeth’ are of adequate length). Corrugate cardboard can be revealed by peeling off paper 
  • Materials Needed:
    -        X-Acto knives (if allowed, otherwise prepare corrugated carboard beforehand)
    -        Cardboard boxes
    -        Pins
    -        Scissors
    -        Pencil
    -        Compass (to make circles for gear wheels)
    -        Glue
    -        Scotch tape

1. Use the compass to draw circles on one part of the corrugated cardboard (suggested sizes to start out with: 1 inch diameter, 2 inch diameter, and 3 inch diameter)

2. Make a mark in the middle of the circle with the compass as circle is being drawn
3. Cut the circles

4. Cut across the wavy corrugates (perpendicular to the lines) at least 3/16 inch thick but no more than 1/4 inch thick

5. Line the thin strip along the circle and snip off at the ends so that the gear teeth match up nicely TIP: the ‘teeth’ of the gears should be uniform when putting the ends of a strip of corrugated cardboard together (e.g. teeth should be separated by a space) à Corrugates should mesh together so that the wheels turn easily
6. Glue the outer edge of the circle along the circumference
7. Use tape to hold edge of gears until glue is dried
8. Push pins will put in the middle of the circle to attach the gear to the cardboard backing
9. To make a handle just place a pin on the outer edge of a circle 

  TIP: If student finishes early… He/she can add tape to the pins at the back (if they went through the cardboard) that will lock the gear wheels in place 


  1. Love this blended learning technique. I may just use it.

  2. My name is Snehal and I’m a former educator. In my role as the founder & CEO of Sokikom, I get to explore teacher blogs to seek out innovative teachers and strategies to spread to more classrooms around the country. First, I love your blog post and wanted to comment that this is a great example of learning by doing.

    As it seems like you follow a "Constructivist" approach to learning and have integrated technology into your classroom, I wanted to let you know about Sokikom, which is currently a free online tool teachers use to (1) streamline classroom management, and (2) differentiate math instruction. We’ve built Sokikom based on the feedback from teachers and it emphasizes learn-by-doing - as I read your blog it seemed like you might be interested so I thought I’d pass it along. We’ve gotten an incredible amount of feedback from teachers using our product, but are always looking for new suggestions as well, so if you decide to give it a try, please don’t hesitate to reach out me personally with questions or feedback!

    1. Thank you for the feedback snehelp. I am a big advocate for constructivist approaches in the classroom and firmly believe in learning by doing. I will check out Sokikom and determine whether this is something I can use along my teaching journey!