Fourth Grade Project Touches All the Angles

Building steadiness detectors in science class has been an academic tradition for fourth grade for many years. What is a steadiness detector? It’s reminiscent of the popular game Operation. The challenge is to move a wire loop along the path of the wire without touching it. If you do, you get buzzed!

“The project is cool because it involves elements of design, mathematics, electronic circuitry, and coding of the wire bender. It touches on many disciplines in one project, including building. It’s a great project,” enthuses Y-Lab director David Husted ‘86 P’33 ‘33.

photos: Richard Morgan

Each year that students have done the project, it has gradually improved: different aspects have been streamlined or made more efficient. And once students gained access to the Y-Lab in 2017, a discussion between David and science teacher Elizabeth Grumbach led to the realization that the lab’s wire bender would be the perfect tool to support the work.

The second major evolutionary change came after David observed students doing the measurements they needed in order to feed accurate data into the wire bender. They each must literally code a sequence based on these measurements. David literally invented a new tool to help them accomplish this more efficiently.

“The wire bender needs a line by line code,” David explains. “All the lines are ‘feeds’ and all the angles are ‘bends’, and you literally code that out and say ‘GO’ and the machine does it.”

While David and Elizabeth observed the students working in the Y-Lab, they realized that the angles they needed to input were not always clear or obvious. For example, if you are measuring a sketch, were you measuring the actual angle or the complement to it?

Whether the machine needed to bend the wire left or right had to be entered as either a positive or negative number into the machine. With “a normal protractor you could do this… but it gets confusing whether you are measuring this angle or that angle,” says David, pointing to different sides of a sketch.

David’s tool takes care of that concern.


Photo: Richard Morgan

David used the original protractor as an image template to which he added the additional features for the new, still unnamed, but soon to be patented piece. The middle wooden section (sort of a tool within a tool that snuggly rests in the middle) came entirely from David’s mind, and can be removed and used for double checking your measurements.

“I developed most of it from scratch. I did find a circular compass, so that existed, but it wasn’t divided in the way this new tool is”, he explains. “The protractor didn’t have the plus and minus, and it didn’t have the piece in the middle.”

Overall, the invention went through about four versions before being perfected. It was all created in the software CorelDRAW and then cut out with the lab’s laser cutter.

It was a night and day change for the students working on their steadiness detectors.

As Elizabeth puts simply, “without the tool David designed, it would have been impossible for the fourth grade students to understand how to measure the direction and size of the angles of their designs, since they have barely touched upon the idea in math.”

The steadiness detector unit’s creativity, ingenuity, and literal invention provides enormous benefit to the student experience and exemplifies the highly collaborative teaching and learning that occurs in Moses Brown’s lower school.