"Junk bicycles for chopping up to make choppers and other human powered vehicles"
I teach Design Engineering, a science elective, co-teach Advanced Sculpture, and run the Maker program at our school. The latter lets me cook up projects that fit with other teachers' curriculum and come into their classes to help out.
One of my goals is to help students get comfortable spending time in unfamiliar territory. The clock project pushes them into the deep end of the pool. Together we break the rather intimidating task into steps - understanding how gears work, learning to sketch ideas and use 2D CAD, learning to work with wood, etc. - and work through them. I'd like them to get comfortable with uncertainty - will the project work? - and frustration - everything takes longer than expected, stuff breaks, designs turn out to be flawed. It's difficult and often different from what they're used to. Some students need reassurance - hand-holding not in the sense of helping them with the project as much as helping them take a deep breath and believe it's going to work out. Hopefully at the end of the project the student takes a step back and says - Wow! I did that! The idea being that if this happens three or four times in a row, the student starts to believe s/he can do anything, a tremendously useful illusion to have.
There's something I like about running a class that feels very different from many of their other classes. This project doesn't have a deadline - it can't, there are too many unknowns - but the students come in every day and work hard on it. There's a sense of something slowly taking shape.
The idea came from a project at High Tech High in San Diego where students created mechanical models to illustrate their own theories as to why civilizations rise and fall. This project pretty much knocked me over. We had just gotten a laser cutter and I had been playing with gears. A clock seemed like something doable in our time frame (four 50-minute classes a week) that also involved some math and physics. I'd like to do a lock project too - learn how different kinds of locks work and have worked through history, then design and build a mechanical lock. When the locks were done teams could trade projects and try and design a tool that would open the mechanism without the key...