Earbud Buddies

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About: The Edgerton Center (http://edgerton.mit.edu/) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a home for experiential learning for students of all ages. For decades before the dawn of the Maker movement, th...

Technology and Engineering, Grades 3 - 8

Lesson Overview

In this activity, students practice the Engineering Design Process on a challenge that is relevant to them, while learning 3D modeling on Tinkercad. The Earbud “Buddy” is a fun creation that helps keep an earbud cord from getting tangled when storing the earbuds. The earbuds could be a simple set provided by the teacher, or the student’s own set.

Students will combine art, math, and technical concepts as they create a design that is meaningful to them while dimensioning it to fit the physical objects they have measured. The designs are likely to be quick to print (less than 15 min) allowing for multiple iterations while students improve and refine their designs.

This project is structured to follow the Engineering Design Process (EDP), a process that helps designers in any discipline create solutions to problems. While there are many ways that people solve problems, designers often use the EDP because it offers a clear roadmap for them to follow as they work towards a solution.


First, designers Define the challenge they are facing, then Learn more about the problem and Explore existing solutions. It’s tempting to skip these first few steps and head straight into brainstorming, but don’t! When designers take the time to understand the problem clearly, they come up with much better solutions. The Design phase is where brainstorming happens. Designers brainstorm multiple possible solutions, then develop a few of them into more detailed plans. Encourage your students to plan at least 3 of their potential ideas before choosing a design direction and starting to Create a product based on their design. If they hit any roadblocks trying to create their first design choice, they’ll be able to revisit their alternate design plans and choose a new direction - without starting from scratch. Designers then take time to Observe their design and see how they can Improve it. We strongly recommend that students have an opportunity for at least 2 Create-Observe-Improve cycles. When students feel they have to “get it right the first time,” they are less willing to take risks and be creative. By repeating the cycle, they have a chance to fix flaws and adopt successful ideas from classmates, and in fact, they’re practicing what professional designers really do. A good design cycle builds in time for the designer to Reflect on their product and the process of making it, looking for learning habits and insights that will help in future challenges. When the work is complete, designers are ready to Share. They bring their work into the real world, by posting, publishing, presenting, or exhibiting - or giving or selling if appropriate! - what they’ve made. For students working through a design process, a real audience helps students connect their learning and work experiences to the world outside the classroom. For Makerspaces and Maker projects, in particular, this is hugely important for building confidence in every student and a sense of community among Makers. To help students work through this process, be sure to build in planned “stops” at each step for students to record their thoughts and progress as they work through product iteration cycles.

Essential Question(s)

How can the Engineering Design Process be used to help students be effective and creative inventors?

How are measuring and math skills important in product design?

Skills Practiced:

  • Measuring with a ruler or caliper
  • Calculating Area and Volume
  • The Engineering Design Process
  • 3D modeling in Tinkercad

Time Required: 2-3 Hours design time

Materials Needed:

  • Sketch paper and pencils
  • Tinkercad
  • Miscellaneous prototyping materials (paper, cardstock, foam sheets, markers, etc.)
  • 3D Printer and filament

Step 1: Define

Context

It is likely that students have had contact with audio “earbud” headphones, and experienced the problem of a tangled cord. What if they could solve this problem for their own earbuds, and create a device that is fun and useful? The Engineering Design Process and 3D modeling are both very useful tools for designers and problem-solvers. This activity is simple, fun, and also includes measuring and calculating area and volume.

The problem/challenge

Definition: students use Tinkercad to design Earbud Buddies with custom features. IN this activity, the designs are expected to be relatively flat, unless otherwise specified by the teacher.

Criteria:

Students choose 3 of the following to include in their Earbud Buddy

  • Fit a specified set of earbuds and hold the cord for storage
  • Keep the cord from unraveling when stored in a backpack/bag
  • Include a motif that is personal to the designer, such as a character, object, or shape
  • Optional: be usable for a variety of earbud designs

Constraints:

Overall Earbud Buddy size and print time

  • Overall area must be no more than 5 square inches
  • Overall volume must be no more than 1 cubic inch
  • Print time varies with the level of detail. A large earbud buddy with text and cutouts could take 30 minutes to print. A simple buddy with few cutouts will take less time, about 20 minutes or less.
  • If the students have access to the slicer software, then they can use it to check the print time for their designs, and a print time limit can be set.

Learning /product Goals

Students will make Earbud Buddies for their own use, for a specific need defined in the classroom, or for sharing in the classroom.

Step 2: Learn / Explore

1. Research:

Look at existing earbuds on audio headphones. Look online for examples of “earbud holders”. Look at the packaging that earbuds come in and any storage devices they may come with. Ask other students and adults how they keep their headphone wires neat and prevent tangling. Students can list what they like/find useful and don’t like /don’t find useful about existing products.

2. Collect:

Have students create an inspiration page where they sketch and/or document a few of the earbud holders they like, such as a blog*, Google Docs, a notebook, poster, etc.

* Padlet is also great for this - it's a free digital pin board in which users can share ideas and inspiration (including links and photos) while collaborating.

Step 3: Design

1. Design:

A good place to start for this activity is a flat design where the earbuds are some significant feature, such the eyes on a character, a pair of flowers, a bird sitting on eggs, ears on an animal, or speakers on a boombox. The major parts that students design are the shape, the features that hold the earbuds, the place to wind the cord, and a way to hold the loose end of the cable. Students brainstorm ideas using the Project Definition and the Criteria and Constraints specified in the “Define” step. Use the inspiration page created in “Learn / Explore” step as a reference.

Option A: draw designs on how the Earbud Buddy will look and/or function. Use paper, whiteboard, drawing apps.

Option B: Build simple models using crafting materials (paper, glue, clay, pipe cleaners, etc.) to show look and/or function.

Option C: Let the students play around in Tinkercad to get familiar with the program and make practice models.

It is important that students create at least three different ideas. Many will want to go with their first idea. Encourage them to make life-size sketches of the Earbud Buddy so they can start thinking about the details, then play around with ideas and see what comes of it. Generating ideas can be hard work, but putting in the time and effort can produce great creative and unexpected results.

Some examples:

A. Owl:

Dimensions:

  • Width - 1 ⅝ in (45 mm)
  • Height - 2 in (54 mm)

Features:

  • Wrap around body
  • Holes for eyes to hold earbuds
  • Hole in the nose to hold headphone jack.

B. Bear:

Dimensions:

  • Width - 1 ¾ in (45 mm)
  • Height - 1 ⅝ in (54 mm)

Features:

  • Wrap around body
  • Holes to cradle ears

C. Fish:

Dimensions:

  • Width - 3 ⅝ in ( mm)
  • Height - 2 in ( mm)

Features:

  • Wrap around body
  • Holes for eyes to hold earbuds.
  • Hole in the tale to hold headphone jack.
  • Can be wrapped horizontally or vertically.

2. Choose a Direction:

Have the students choose a design that meets the criteria of the project. Sketch these designs and emphasize that this is their design “direction” and that the design they create may be different as they learn more about the tools available and iterate through the design cycle.

Step 4: Create

1. Choose a motif.

a. You can create a life-size sketch drawing of the earbud buddy, outline and color it in with a dark color sharpy, and scan in the image. This image can then be converted into an SVG file, and imported into Tinkercad for use.

b. You may also use Scribble Block to make your own shapes.

2. Decide whether earbuds will be held in holes or cradled.

3. Measure:

  • Cord diameter
  • Microphone length
  • The rubber part of the bud

4. Set the overall shape hight to ⅛” (.125).

5. Add holes/cradles for earbuds.

6. Add notch for the end of the cord.

7. Make the design yours - add more detail, text, refine shape, etc.

8. Check size against the constraints and modify as needed.

9. Use a 3D printer slicer program to check build time and volume, and modify the design as needed.

10. 3D Print the Earbud buddy by exporting the file as an STL. You can also export as an SVG for laser cutting. (Try exporting small SVG details to create cricket stickers to add to your Earbud Buddies.)

11. Try it out! Does it hold the earbuds, keep the cord neat, and look good to you?

12. Iterate through the design cycle going back to Step 7 in this list.

Step 5: Observe, Improve, Iterate

  1. Try out the new Earbud Buddies! See how well they hold the student’s designated Earbuds, and if they work for others as well. Encourage students to share their creations and come up with ideas for new devices.
  2. It’s a good idea for students to have an opportunity for at least two design-build-improve cycles. When students feel they have to “get it right the first time” they are less willing to take risks and be creative. On the second time through they can fix flaws and adopt successful ideas from classmates.
  3. Provide stopping points for the class where students can observe, evaluate, and document their design.
  4. Create documentation guidelines for students to record their thoughts and progress as they work through product iteration cycles. This can serve as a formative assessment.
  • A description/sketch of the design
  • How well the design met the project definition, criteria, and constraints
  • What students liked about their design
  • What students want to improve on the design
  • Suggestions for improvement

Criteria:

Students choose 3 of the following to include in their Earbud Buddy

  • Fit a specified set of earbuds and hold the cord for storage
  • Keep the cord from unraveling when stored in a backpack/bag
  • Include a motif that is personal to the designer, such as a character, object, or shape
  • Optional: be usable for a variety of earbud designs

Constraints:

Overall Earbud Buddy size and print time

  • Overall area must be no more than 5 square inches
  • Overall volume must be no more than 1 cubic inch
  • Print time varies with the level of detail. A large earbud buddy with text and cutouts could take 30 minutes to print. A simple buddy with few cutouts will take less time, about 20 minutes or less.
  • If the students have access to the slicer software, then they can use it to check the print time for their designs, and a print time limit can be set.

Download pdf with possible prompts for Steps 5 and Step 6

Step 6: Reflect

Reflect: After the design and build time is over, have students reflect on the process and product. This reflection is similar to the one in the “Observe, Improve, Iterate” step but now includes reflection on the process as well.

Download pdf with possible prompts for Steps 5 and Step 6:

Step 7: Share

Give the students and opportunity to share their Earbud Buddies with the class or some other community. Options for sharing include presentation, demonstration, blog or online post, video clip, physical display, family events, and maker fairs, or in the use for which it was intended.

Step 8: Project Extensions

Examples:

  • Design a simple device that wraps up an extra cord and effectively shortens the cord when using the earbuds. This could be a feature added to the storage device or a standalone item.
  • Create an Earbud Buddy with more 3D features such as

  • Explore entrepreneurship concepts - students can create product pitches and filmed commercials for their Earbud Buddies.

We hope you had fun designing and sharing your Earbud Buddies. What did you make? What materials did you use? We want to see! If you did this in a K-12 classroom, what subject was it in?

Send us an email or leave us a comment so we can see what you're making.

Visit our website k12maker.mit.edu to get resources for K-12 teachers:

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    WeTeachThemSTEM

    9 days ago

    I love this lesson! It's such a fun way for students to design and produce a product for personal use or for a broader audience while exploring some concepts of entrepreneurship in the classroom. :)