Last year I was looking for a project that would be a better way to introduce the laser cutter to my students. Projects that I had tried out previously seemed to take up too much class time and were hard to manage with a full class of twenty or more students with only one laser cutter. I saw a very nice new business sign one day and I had a eureka moment. I could have my students make up a fictional business, design a sign for that made up business, and then use the laser cutter to make them! I tried it out last year in my first level manufacturing classes and this year I'm bringing it back with a few tweaks.
If you are not a teacher/looking for an activity to do with a group of kids, you could still use the same process to create your own unique signs with a laser cutter.
If you are looking for a project to do with a class using a laser cutter, follow along as I walk you through how I use this project in my class.
Step 1: Materials and Equipment
- Paint/Markers/Crayons (optional)
- Computer with design software
- Laser Cutter
Step 2: Lesson Plan
In this step I detail how I set up this project for use in my class. If you're not a teacher and are just looking for the steps I used to create a sign, skip ahead to step 4 where I begin to detail designing the sign.
Grade Level: 9-12
Time Required: 2 weeks
Students will have learned how to create freehand concept sketches and oblique sketches.
Students will have learned to use CAD software.
Students will have learned the content the signs will be designed for. (i.e. manufacturing processes, engineering disciplines, vocab words)
Objectives: After this lesson students will be able to:
- operate the laser cutter when working with cardboard little with little to no assistance from the teacher.
- explain a manufacturing process and how it is used to make a product.
Prepare cardboard for your laser cutter. (I cut my cardboard into 24"x 12" sheets)
If you want to allow your students to have colored signs, I recommend painting the cardboard before cutting.
I did some trial runs with coloring the sign with markers after cutting and it took way to long for my liking. I had some volunteer students from study hall stop by and paint all the cardboard sheets for me before we started the project.
Make an example sign that can be shown to your students.
I use this project to introduce how to run our laser cutter and as a way to assess students on their knowledge of the content we have been covering. This year I used it in my manufacturing class right after we had covered the six manufacturing processes. The manufacturing processes are what I will have my students make their signs and give their presentations about. I like this project quite a bit and think next year I plan to use it in several of my classes for different pieces of content , like when we cover the different fields of engineering or simple machines.
I introduce this project by showing my students interesting business signs. I try to focus on finding signs that are very well designed and represent what the business does in some fashion. Examples: a coffee shop that has the outline of a coffee bean or a mug, a dentist office sign in the shape of a tooth, or a surfing shop with a wave and surfer popping out of the sign, etc. My goal is to give the students examples of what a quality sign looks like, show them what types of signs are possible, get them excited about what about the upcoming project, and to get their creativity juices percolating
- Introduce project with sign examples. Great time to show your example sign.
- Give students Business Sign Project handout
- Overview the entire project, discuss the expectations, and student submittals
- Discuss project deadlines.
- Student work time.
Students will be assessed on the design and construction of their sign as well as on their presentation. A rubric will be used.
Attachments and Project Notes.
I have provided my Business Sign Project Handout as well as the Business Sign Project Rubric I use to grade the students on this project. The rubric is a Frankenstein rubric that I cobbled together from other rubrics I created or found for free online over the years, it is very basic. Feel free to use them as is or edit them to work for your class.
I can complete this project in about two weeks in my classes. That is with my students meeting every other day and getting roughly 55-60 minutes of work time per class. I always have several projects running at the same time, so when a student finishes their sign and speech and is just waiting to present, I move them onto another project until presentation day.
Step 3: Idea Sketches
The first step the students need to complete in my class is choosing their topic and name for their new business. I always try to give my students some weird/fun/maybe slightly stupid name examples, like Johnny Cool's Crazy Treacherous Sawmill or Lackadaisical Forming Operations. Mostly, I just try to get them thinking and using terms they've learned throughout school, not just terms from my class.
I only give my students about fifteen or twenty minutes to come up with their business ideas. If I don't give my students a quick deadline half of them will spend all of their time trying to come up with the perfect name or they will simply give up and say they cant think of anything. When they have to come up with and idea in a very short time the students tend to do better with getting something down on paper so they can start brainstorming designs for their actual sign. If they come up with a better name when they are actually brainstorming design ideas for their sign I will usually let them change it.
Once they have their business idea and name I make them sketch out three different design ideas. I don't have them worry about scale and size at this point, just what the sign would look like. The main requirements are that the sign needs to represent their chosen topic in some way and the name of their company needs to be displayed on the sign somewhere. Once they have three designs, we talk them over, choose one, and move on to the next step.
My students always complain that I make them come up with three ideas. I always stress the point that when they think they can't come up with one more idea, that is when the weird/cool/crazy/fun ideas come from. They also always think that their first idea is by far the best so some students will try to make one really cool, detailed first sketch and then two sketches that look like my two year old niece drew them. If that happens I make them go back to the drawing board and put a little more effort into their other two designs. As long as their designs are school appropriate and I see they put some thought into each design I usually let them choose whichever option they want.
Step 4: Design
With their business idea and sign design approved, the students now must create their design in CAD software. By this point in the class my students know how to use at least one CAD software, which they can use to design their sign. Most of my students have modeled much more difficult objects than their sign already so this portion of the project usually is not too difficult and does not take incredibly long. (Which is one reason I like using it to introduce the laser cutter as my previous laser cutter projects were much more CAD heavy.) The one thing students will want to consider is the layers to their sign. Depending on the look they are going for and what they want to emphasize, some students may only have two layers, some three, and occasionally I'll let students go to four layers if it makes sense for the design of their sign. Once a student or two has finished the CAD work for their sign I walk the entire class through how to export their design to the correct file format that we can use with our laser cutter.
I've included the DXF file for the simple casting sign I created for my class. Feel free to use it as your example if you would like.
Step 5: Laser Parts
Your students should have their design exported to a file format that you can use with your laser cutter. The next step is to cut their parts out of cardboard. I have my students work in groups of two at the laser cutter. Each student's entire design needs to take less than ten minutes to cut out. You can give your students whatever time length with the laser cutter you prefer. My school runs on a four block schedule, where each block is 90 minutes long. With the ten minute criteria, I can usually have five, maybe six students, finish their laser cutting in one period.
If the students parts take a few minutes less than ten minutes to run on the laser, I have them engrave their entire sign onto the backing/major portion of their sign. This will help them glue up their parts in the proper layout in the next step.
I teach my students as an entire class how to run our laser cutter at once. During that demonstration I give them a handout that is a step by step procedure they can use when it is their turn. I upload a tutorial video on how to run our laser cutter to our class website that they can use as well. I found that using this overall process of a live demonstration, a step by step handout, and a tutorial video seems to work pretty well to teach the students how to safely and properly use our machine. The only other major thing I do besides answer a question here or there is to check the students work before they actually run the laser.
The most common problem that arises when students are using our laser with cardboard, is the cardboard catching on fire. I discuss this problem with the students and show them tips to help reduce the chance of that happening with their parts. Tips I share are generally not having their pieces positioned too close to the edge of the cardboard and checking that the settings are correct for the machine to cut cardboard. In addition to those tips I have my students keep some damp rags close by when they are running their parts to help put out any flames if things do catch on fire.
Step 6: Glue
The students now need to take their laser cut parts and assemble them into their sign. Have the students use their idea sketch from earlier to help with the layout of their parts. If you didn't paint your cardboard before cutting out the parts, you will probably want to have the students color their parts first before gluing. Any glue will work to assemble the sign together, I just have my students use regular old Elmer's glue. I remind my students to take their time and make their sign look as close as possible to their sketch.
Once they are finished with gluing their sign together, I have my students start on their presentation/speech. The presentation should explain their sign, how it relates to their chosen topic, and how it all ties into their business.
In the pictures you will see three signs I made and use as examples in class. Without coloring the cardboard the signs still look good, but with color they really stand out.
Step 7: Present and Display!
I try to have my students present their signs as if they are having their business' grand opening. I demonstrate an example in class with a speech like this:
COOL CASTING SPEECH
"Thank you for coming to the grand opening of Cool Casting. I'm Janie Cool the owner and operator of Cool Casting we make custom steel parts using our one of a kind metal casting process. We begin by heating our metal to a molten state. We then pour that material into our specially designed molds and let the metal cool and take form. Our sign represents the first step in our casting process and I hope today we can take the first step towards obtaining your business. Thanks for coming and enjoy the crab cakes!"
I do not assign a lot of presentations in my manufacturing class so with this project I try to let the students keep their speech short. What I'm looking for in the speech is an explanation of what their business does or makes and how their sign represents that process to them. If they hit on the major steps of how their process is completed during their speech I usually give them most of the credit. I only grade them slightly on their presentation skills.
Once all the signs are finished and presented I will put a few of them on a cork display board in the school to show off some of our students work.
There you have it the Business Sign Class Project! Again, I really enjoy running this project in my classes and will probably continue to tweak it here and there until I have it down to run without a hitch. I'll update this Instructable with any major updates/changes I make.
If you try this out in your class, let me know! Any feedback on projects always helps me improve my teaching!
Enjoy creating and learning!