A Kids Project That Gives Back




Introduction: A Kids Project That Gives Back

About: Car buff, longboard builder and shop teacher. not enough time to build stuff.

I've been teaching for 14 years but at only 2 schools. Both of the schools have whats called in our district "inner city" status. This doesn't mean we're in a big city, it means that a significant number of the students are living near the poverty level. Many of the kids come from some pretty impoverished conditions and a really unstable family environment.

What i've noticed is that when these kids are given the opportunity to give back they are empowered in ways that a lunch program or free tutoring really can't touch. I like to show 2 really powerful videos. Even if you don't do this project you need to watch them. When i watch these videos and see the reactions of my students I really have to fight back tears. It is fantastic to see the kids GEARED UP for change.


So i've been thinking about what I can do with my shop kids to give them the chance to give back to the community. I want them to realize their potential for making a change not only in their own situation but for others as well. This is what i've come up with and Instructables is a perfect way to organize and present my ideas... so here ya go.

This really is two Instructables in one... I want  the kids to learn how to help in their community and I want the kids to learn how to set up and build a project assembly-line style that addresses the needs they discover.

Here's my Learning Objectives...

Part One...( the brainy stuff)

-The Students will learn how to discover through research WHO needs help in their area
-Through discussion and research the students will discover WHERE the people are.
-Once the students identify who to help they need to learn WHAT they can do to help.
-The students will learn and identify HOW to  find resources to accomplish the goal.
-The students will learn to communicate and cooperate as a team to achieve a goal.
-The students will become empowered and PUMPED to create change!! YA!!!

Part Two... (the practical hands on stuff)

-The students will demonstrate different ways to creatively design a product.
-The students will learn how to determine materials requirements.
-After available tools are established the students will decide which will be used. We have all sorts of tools in our shop so the students will learn and demonstrate how to safely operate the Drill press, Hand drill, Scroll saw, Jigsaw and Band saw.
-Students will learn to apply teamwork to efficiently construct a project by using piece work and assembly-line style building if needed.

Submitted by HD Stafford Middle School  for the Instructables Sponsorship Program

Step 1: Determining WHO

After i explain to the class the project we move to the next step.

I'm a chalkboard kinda guy so thats where i usually start.
First i'll ask the kids WHO we can help. I've already done the research in our community and laid the groundwork but the kids don't know that. I'll guide them to the end.. :-)

I ask kids to call out ideas. No idea is a bad idea in my class so i'll write down pretty much anything. Within reason of course. Answers could include:

-Overseas... Kids in Africa, Asia
-People downtown (vancouver...housing and the homeless is a widely publicized issue... occupy being a major issue here)
-People in our area... street people usually are first mentioned
-Other kids in the area.
-People the kids know.

Whats really interesting is that the kids usually don't recognize local needs first. I try to guide them that way because it really is more practical and the kids can actually go TALK  to the people.

Now I ask which groups they could more realistically help. The answer (gently guided by me) will be the people in our area. Depending on your area you might want to narrow it down a bit... I'm going to guide my kids to other kids in the area because it is something really personal for the students. 

Step 2: Determining WHERE

Once the kids have decided WHO they want to focus on we talk about WHERE they are. The kids know all about the homeless... they walk among them in our city center and in the malls. What many of the kids don't know is that many of the other students walking around them are in a tough situation. They might have to take turns sharing lunches with siblings or have only one change of clothes to wear to school. The kids don't realize that sometimes if a fellow student appears unclean its because they don't have someone to take care of them!

It really is amazing when kids GET this. Their brains go into top gear and I can't write fast enough. If you check out the photo of the board it is messy because i'm writing as fast as i can! VERY COOL.

I guide the kids to local areas... they are familiar with the soup kitchens and the goodwill locations but what i do is steer them towards an environment that i've already scoped out. Of course they come up with great new ideas which we can explore but i make sure that my "setup" is included. I want the kids to be empowered but they must be safe!

Great places include:
-Community centers. They will often need practical help. Most have kids programs that need help.
-Legions.. They often support local kids charities as well as needing help or even building something for them to "beautify" their center.
-Local not-for-profit preschools and day cares.
-Churches will often have kids programs that need help.

Of course the internet and local gov't offices have all sorts of agencies as well. It really does depend on your area. Let me stress something though that i just mentioned. I really would suggest having at least a few options set up already. You do not want kids to be wandering around in the tough areas on their own. This is something that kids parents can really help with as well and be involved.

Step 3: Determining WHAT

Now the students have narrowed down WHO and WHERE you can help them set up communications. Depending on where the locations are you can setup meetings by 'phone, email or in person. I will organize a quick meeting with my class to walk to a local community center with a great kids program that is operating on almost nothing.  Narrow down a project or a few depending on the project scope and the class.

Now is the time to setup teams. Depending on what you're doing, your resources, the class size and composition, skills that the kids have etc you will need to narrow down the scope. I would suggest teams of 3 or 5. Teams of 4 are a magical really bad number. It seems that in a group of 4 you will have 2 kids doing ALL of the work with 1 helping and the last do nothing at all. I would also suggest that if you know the students well that you set up the teams. Have a natural leader, a student that is organized and a student that is skilled in the shop. Kids with good communication skills and artists are sometimes overlooked in the shops but are really valuable. Make sure they have a spot in a team.

This is basically the second part of the Instructable... The Project....

Once teams are setup you can assign projects to teams. Have the kids sit down, look at the project and brainstorm solutions. A couple ideas to get things moving include:

-Brainstorming. I already do this in the class so the kids often do it naturally. Set them up with a big piece of paper and felt pens. have different colors...
-Free form sketching. The kids each get a piece or 2 of paper and they do sketches. They should focus on quantity rather than specifics... keep the brains moving!
-Paper Flip. The kids each have a piece of paper that they draw ideas on. Remind them that this is an environment where they can feel safe and not mocked for ideas. Give the kids 10 minutes and ask them to switch papers. The job is to add to the other ideas.
-Paper Race. This idea is similar to the last but don't give the kids much time. Turn it into a race!

Once the students have ideas they are allowed on the internet. I really would NOT suggest using computers until the kids have good ideas already. We are such a computer dependent society sometimes we forget to use our brains!

Step 4: Determining HOW

Now the students know WHO, WHERE and WHAT so now is the practical part. HOW will they make this thing? I get the kids to look first at resources we have in the shops already. They need to examine the project, figure out exactly HOW they are going to do it with the tools at their disposal.

Materials are always an issue. While I don't tell the kids to actually dumpster-dive I always take a minute and peek into the HUGE dumpsters next to the giant container stores. Um... without actually using names... the one closest to our area... well.. lets say it starts with a "C" and ends with a "CO"
Try asking the store managers if they would contact your school first before throwing out the 50 racks built with 1" square steel that has been magically transported into my shop. How about the 10 displays built with 1/2" BIRCH plywood? What a colossal waste. We owe it to ourselves and our environment to help these big box stores GET the three "R"'s. (reuse being the best for us)

Another really great resource are big companies that build one-run projects. They often have off-cuts. We have a few local cabinet-making companies that have off-cuts in HUGE boxes of wood we can use in our shops. I recently had a parent who is a cabinet-maker who dropped by enough pine for me to run a wood class for a year... All off-cuts. My only request is that the pieces have to be more than 12" in length so i can joint and plane them safely.

Once the students have figured out HOW to do the basics they can move onto the specifics of design...

Step 5: The Product Design

By now the students have figured out what they are going to do. They have a target audience, a "thing" to build and a general idea of what they have at their disposal.

From this point on I will focus on one of the products that the kids came up with... They chose to build a small building toy of wood that a 4 year old boy or girl would like to play with.

Product Design is taking the idea they have decided on and asking the students to come up with more specific solutions. I use the same methods as in step 3 but i ask them to focus on the details of  the product.  The students came up with all sorts of great ideas that a 4 year old at a local play center would play with happily. Now they can take the design and get more specific.

The students can focus on:
-Full scale drawings
-Details on parts
-Cut patterns.

What are the steps in construction? Kids have a hard time visualizing this unless they are experienced in the shop. You'll have to establish:
-Rough break out of stock
-Pattern creation, transfer to wood.
-Dividing tasks
       -Part cut out

Step 6: Pattern Building, Transfer and Stock Break Out

I guide the students into breaking the design down into component parts that the toy is made of.  They use carbon paper to transfer the design to file folders. Most teachers will have TONS of these around.

Once the design parts are transferred to card stock they cut the pieces out. They always ask WHY do we transfer and cut it out... i say that it is a great way to make sure everything FITS and that they will have to build 10 of them so repeatability is really important. This is a nice way of starting the idea of piece work and assembly-line building. A great incidental learning to throw at them is to ask who first invented the automobile. Most kids will say FORD! I say... WRONG! good ol' Henry was actually first and best known for his ASSEMBLY - LINE techniques that allowed him to build the auto industry! (I think Benz or Bugatti were first?)

While part of the group is doing the first step I set up the other part of the group to start breaking out stock. Usually i have an idea of what they are doing so i've planed everything to the right thickness. I ask that they find out how much of each thickness they will need and cut it out. They double-check with their partners before cutting out enough stock for 10 toys.

By now the whole team has cut out the rough stock and organized it by parts with the parts traced on to the pieces. I find that simple kids toys like these students designed are great for kids to build... they are basically 2-D in design, easy to build and can be done with scraps.

You've noticed, I'm sure, that communication plays a BIG role as well as team work. amazing skills for kids to learn. I've included both of these "incidental" skills in my learning objectives.

Step 7: Cutting Out the Bits

Ask the teams to decide what needs to be done and divide the group accordingly. I help them to decide but typically right now they need to cut out thee parts and as this happens they need to sand and finish them.

Unleash the students on cut out tools. I use the bandsaw for grade 8 kids and under that age the scroll saw or the jigsaw. If you keep the wood soft they can cut it out easily.

As the parts start coming out the other team members start sanding and finishing. Make sure they test-fit the parts and correct any mistakes before they cut out lots of parts.

Make sure you stay on top of the kids to keep busy. Idle hands tend to be... not great.. :-) If you can think of any other jobs help them setup. With this project the kids were using dowels to hold the parts together so the toy could be assembled with different details. I made sure that any idle kids were occupied cutting dowels (DON'T use the bandsaw for round stock). They also had to set up a clamp jig to hold the pieces while they were drilling.

Because this is for little kids the students just sanded the parts really well and did a small detail with a non-toxic pen.

Step 8: Start Assembling!

This really is such a great part of the process. They are so excited to see it coming together!
Ensure they work as a team in this part...

Give them time to do it well. Suggest they figure out a cool way to package it. This project will get an assembly drawing with an idea of the different ways to put the toy together... As i get more parts cut out i'll post them... you can get an idea of what they want to do if you go back to step 3... it is really exciting what this group came up with.

Step 9: Wrapping Up.

If you can set it up so the students can take the project to the community, make it happen. Maybe parents will drive the toy over with a couple of the kids. I think that this step is the most important of the whole exercise. If you can get the rest of the school involved that would be amazing! Get your admin involved!

The students get a chance to see the impact of what they have done... it empowers the kids to continue giving.

It teaches them to be a part of a community and to GIVE more than they TAKE.

They learn that even a KID can make a difference!

If that isn't the most cool thing you can teach i don't know what is.

Thanks for reading this instructable and as a teacher let me encourage you... especially in January and February when things can get a bit stressful and tend to drag on. You are WAY more influential as a teacher than you imagine. Lets look past the politics and the stress and frustration and remember that when asked who the top 10 most influential people in the life of a child are...teachers are almost always in that list.


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    7 years ago on Step 9

    great project

    Im a student teacher and just finished my first week of professional experience in a school teaching MDT to middle and secondary class groups. Your project ideas are great. The school I was at the yr 10 students were working on a community project building cubby houses that were then going to be sold to families that couldnt afford to buy one normally and this money would be donated back to the school for student excursions and trips or materials for the school. It was amazing to see the kids taking the project seriously, participating in discussions on design issues, taking care (for the most part!) in the quality of the work. I really enjoyed my time there and got me excited about becoming a teacher.


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

    Great to hear about your excitement about the job! It really is the best career! Students never cease to amaze me. I am working at a school in Rwanda, East Africa right now and I would highly recommend it to any teacher!

    don kreisman
    don kreisman

    8 years ago on Introduction



    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks SO much. I really appreciate the kind words.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Very interesting.
    Perhaps a project to research and make wood burner or wood gas or biomass burners would help give your workshop cheaper or more efficient heating?: )


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    for sure. i think that kids really need to expand their horizons! building basic projects is great but sustainable projects are better!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice idea :) its the first time your images show a wide shot of your workshop.... It looks awesome! Does it not get cold tho? Canadian winters are pretty nippy I hear?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    hey jonny! the shops... both wood and metal were built 30 years ago for the apprenticeship program. when the school was changed to a middle school 4 years ago i jumped in and set up the shops so they wouldn't be "absorbed" by the district. Awesome facilities. very cold in the winter though!
    (it only hit -8C this winter)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That is totally awesome. Well worthy of being featured. Keep up the great work.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    thanks to both of you! I really appreciate the comment support.