Editor’s note: Not all teaching about making needs to happen in the classroom. Nor should it! Today’s post shows how something as seemingly mundane as trips to the local hardware store provide an important learning opportunity for a class of budding makers. Hardware store employees are teachers-at-large in our communities. Makers at heart, the best of them yearn to introduce new makers to their craft and are excited to help problem-solve and guide decisions about projects. During a field trip to the hardware store, teachers and mentors can model  for their students how to ask questions and learn from these most enthusiastic employees.

The First Field Trip

As soon as they arrived at Friedman’s Home Improvement, math teacher Rachael Ayre and her students from the Montgomery High School Makerspace were greeted by a helpful employee named Chad, who took them straight back to the lumber section. They had come to choose materials to build their Makerspace’s back wall, which would consist of pegboard for storage and whiteboard for brainstorming.

measuring-hardwarestoreChad grabbed a 1″ x 8″ off the shelf and asked a student to measure it. Everyone brought their hand-decorated tape measures from school, but Michelle volunteered first. After careful placement and some squinting, she discovered that the dimensions were actually 3/4″ x 7-3/4″. Lumber is usually cut at the correct dimension while still relatively wet, and the process of kiln-drying shrinks a little. The students took note that they would have to take this important point into account when planning for their Makerspace or any project.

Chad went on to explain the differences in wood types and how plywood is made, and then he directed the class to the pegboard and whiteboard. The students had previously measured their classroom’s back wall, so they knew how many 4′ x 8′ sheets they needed for full coverage.

How should they fasten those sheets to the classroom wall, though? Chad brought everyone over to the hardware section to discuss different fasteners. One student reacted to the assortment of nuts, bolts, screws, and nails by saying “Ooooh… shiny!” Chad advised the group on their choice of screws to secure the boards. Everyone laughed when he said “wingnut.”

Next they went to the PVC section. Perfect for building modular storage systems, PVC is also a good prototyping tool. They once again found that not everything is what it seems: a 2″ piece of PVC is really 1-7/8″. Students dug into all the different tube sizes and connectors, sparking ideas for possible future projects.

Soon after, everyone gathered to return to school. On the next field trip, students would choose furring strips to use as an intermediary mounting material between the pegboard, whiteboard, and the wall.

The Second Field Trip

Before leaving for a second trip to Friedman’s, Shaka asked his teacher Rachael Ayre, “If we don’t have a permission slip, does that mean we can’t build?” This question underscores the class’ eagerness — as well as the mini hurdles! — to start work on transforming their classroom into a makerspace.

This trip’s mission was to choose furring strips to help mount the whiteboard and pegboard to the classroom’s back wall. Friedman’s employee Michael brought the class to the lumber department and explained how different 4′ x 8′ sheet material is manufactured. MDF (medium density fiberboard) is an engineered wood, made by taking wood fibers, compressing, and gluing them together. It’s what the class’ pegboard and whiteboard would be made of, and is superior to particle board in strength.

Michael grabbed a piece of 3′ x 7′ plywood and asked what this odd size could be used for. Caleb immediately answered, “Hollow core doors,” impressing the whole group.

After learning more about plywood, Caleb said he’d like to build his own skateboard and learned about how a skateboard is made by layering plys in a curved jig and gluing them together.

The class shifted towards the lumber department’s section on furring strips. These 1″ x 2″ furring strips provide structural stability, while also giving a bit of space between the pegboard and the wall, so that pegs can be hung. The class would need four furring strips for each of the 12 sheets of pegboard and whiteboard they’d bought on the last trip to the hardware store, with a few extra thrown in just in case. Michael showed the students how to best choose strips — by sighting down the length of the wood to ensure a straight piece. Not doing so can lead to some headaches during the build process.

After gathering straight furring strips, students headed to the hardware section to pick out screws. The class settled on 2″ drywall screws to fasten the furring strips to the studs behind the wall, as well as 1″ hex head screws to attach the boards to the furring strips.

With all the materials in hand, the next step is to start building!

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