Early Navigators & Ancient Explorers Take Over the Foundry

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The Harbour School, Hong Kong

At the Harbour School, every class will get an opportunity to visit the Foundry for an entire week to make something in an intensive skill-building setting. Students in Grade 5 were learning about ancient navigators and early explorers in their Social Studies curriculum by learning about methods and tools used for navigation and exploring by famous explorers like Cortez, Columbus and Magellan. To foster a strong connection between the STEAM subjects, we designed an activity where students designed, fabricated and tested navigational quadrants and maps.

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Mark Barnett, Makerspace Coordinator showing students the Laser Cutter

In order for students to have a successful project, they had to design a quadrant from a template, laser cut it, then assemble it before testing. Students used a vector design software called Gravit and became proficient at using it over the week. Many students decorated their quadrants with nautical themes. For many Grade 5 students, this was their first time to see the laser cutter in action, and they were thrilled to learn how it all works.

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Student made quadrant designs

This activity allowed for a natural connection between the STEAM subjects. At the Harbour School, teachers value the connections between subjects, making learning transdisciplinary, experiential and project-based. The idea for the project was developed between the Foundry staff and the Grade 5 teachers.

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Students measuring angles with the quadrant

To use the quadrants, students had to practice measuring the height of tall objects around the campus. By using a bit math and geometry, you can calculate the height of an object by measuring the degree of the observed angle and measuring the distance to the base of the object. Later in Term 1, these students will take their quadrants out on the Black Dolphin for a sail around Lamma Island to simulate a real early navigators experience.

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THS student using a navigators quadrant

Each student was able to make their own quadrant and keep them for later use. During the course of the week, we also discussed how early explorers and ancient navigators used tools like a backstaff, a compass and a map to navigate around the seas by boat. Part 2 of the activity was to create a map that showed a possible course of sail for the Black Dolphin to explore Lamma Island. In order to make an accurate map, students had to first look at Google Maps and locate landmarks on Lamma Island to add to their map. Then using the Gravit vector design software, they completed their maps, perhaps an advantage that early explorers did not have. See the rest of the photos here.

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Screenshot of Gravit map design

About the THS Foundry

The Foundry is an educational makerspace equipped with advanced manufacturing tools like 3D printers, robots, and laser cutters as well as traditional woodshop tools and electronics. In the Foundry, students are lead through a week-long project where they learn new skills, practice design thinking and collaborate on shared experiences that help to develop knowledge in new and fun ways.

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Students working on Gravit designs in the Foundry

Written by

Learning Experience Designer & Consultant. Currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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