Runnels | Independent School, Baton Rouge


Third Graders Design and Develop the “LEGO Shaker”


In learning to think like engineers, the students in Candice Ortlieb’s third-grade science classes came up with their own invention. Using the STEM hands-on inquiry method, they designed and developed the "LEGO Shaker," a hand-held apparatus that sorts LEGO pieces by size. Currently, they're in the process of working with a fabricator to build a prototype of the invention. 
On Thursday, Runnels dad Brandt Ray (Paislee, 3B, and Slade, Preschool 2s), who works with Ferguson Enterprises, a manufacturer of commercial and residential plumbing supplies, met with his third grade "clients" in the Elementary Drama Room to unveil the first prototype of the shaker, which his company made from a 10 inch PVC pipe. 
The project, which began a few weeks ago, was part of a cooperative hands-on lesson to demonstrate and practice the eight-step engineering design process.
"To make sorting LEGOs easier, the class designed the "LEGO Shaker." The project was part of a cooperative project-based lesson to demonstrate the eight-step engineering design process.
Mrs. Ortlieb explains what prompted the invention and how it was designed:
"Every day when the students came into the science room, they would see a long row of gallon-sized plastic bags bulging with mismatched LEGO pieces stored on an overhead shelf. The students love LEGOs! They're great for measuring projects, math activities, learning to tell time, and, of course, making epic gingerbread houses. But with so many random-sized LEGOS -- more than 100 pounds -- sorting through and finding just the right piece for a project is a daunting task. To solve the problem, they decided to create the "LEGO Shaker." 
As students became more familiar with what they needed through research and trial and error, their design for the “LEGO Shaker” began to take shape. It would sort LEGOS into 3 categories: LEGO bricks bigger than a standard 2 by 4 brick, LEGOs about the same size as a 2 by 4 brick, and those smaller than a standard brick. 
The “shaker” was to have three stacked rings or layers -- all different sizes in diameter. Imagine something similar to three hat boxes stacked one on top of the other, each containing a group of rings that allows different sized LEGOs to pass through. The students already knew they wanted to use PVC pipe for their design, but had to now actually build a prototype. 
They rummaged and ransacked recycling bins to find something to match their ideal sorting ring sizes. In the end, the outside of a toilet paper roll, a glue stick, and a slice of a pool noodle were used as guides for making each ring size for the prototype. 
To assemble it, students used strips of card stock rolled and taped around the pool noodles, toilet paper rolls, and glue sticks to represent the PVC pipe rings that were going to sift the LEGOS.
Once they had made enough of these prototype PVC pipe rings, they gathered and taped those rings into a circular shape that was about 10 inches in diameter. Got that so far? Once the PVC pipe ring models had been assembled into a circle, they were taped and squeezed, and taped and squeezed some more until -- 4 rolls of masking tape later -- they were firmly attached to the giant cardboard tube shell. 
This prototype was then shipped to the manufacturer, Ferguson Enterprises, for design suggestions and approval. Helping us hit it out of the ballpark on this side of things was Ferguson Enterprises’ Brandt Ray, a former baseball player with USL’s Ragin’ Cajuns. 
Mr. Ray met with the third grade students Thursday morning in the Elementary Drama Room to hash out the final details before the invention “goes into production.” The meeting brought about a lively discussion and an important design change, (stay with us here, this could get complicated).
Remember, each layer of the LEGO sifter was to sort a different size of LEGO. As it turns out, PVC pipe, the 3 feet high, 10 inch diameter type, is actually a bit heavy, certainly too heavy for a third grader to shake. 
To solve this issue, the team decided to make each layer of the “hat box design” detachable. This solves the problem of the weight of the original design. Students can pour the sifted LEGOS into the next size and continue from there. 
Final measurements were drawn out on the sample pipe Mr. Brandt brought to the meeting and each child got to sign it -- some signed it in cursive!  We plan on keeping this sample piece of pipe as a keepsake in the classroom. Although, I have overheard some discussion among the students about what they could make out of this keepsake piece of pipe. And so the design process continues…."