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by Patrick Dyer
Hillcrest School

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November 17, 2016
The Monumental Sandcastle Design Project

by Patrick Dyer
Hillcrest School

If we build it, they will come. That timeless motto rang in my head as we asked students to draw a picture, this year specifically an amusement park, that would eventually become a larger-than-life sandcastle on the beach. In my classroom, this dream became a reality with the help of architects, engineers, contractors, eager fourth graders and excited parents.

Turning a paper-and-pencil sketch into a full-fledge engineering marvel is no easy task; it involves science, technology, engineering, art and math. For those too far from the beach to build the sandcastles inspired by student drawings like the 4,000 people annually at the Leap Arts Sandcastle Classic at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, don't worry. The folks at Leap Arts have all the resources you need. 

The design process starts with a presentation done by architects, engineers and contractors. They team together and present time-lapse videos showing land transformations from dilapidated buildings to a modernized hospital. It captures, mesmerizes and ignites students' thinking about how the three different industries work together to develop incredible structures. Designers Ratcliff Architects, SmithGroupJJR, and HerreroBoldt created a build-and-design presentation for use in the classrooms. By the end of the presentation, students are ready to build something; it doesn't matter if the actual beach is involved! 

For the Sandcastle Classic, our ideas revolve around an annual theme. In past years themes have included food, literature, and space, to name a few. This year's theme, Movers and Makers, incorporated anything that moved. Our team decided on an amusement park, specifically the one built more than 100 years ago at the same location as the sandcastle competition: the now-gone Playland at Ocean Beach. We gave ourselves the team name the RollerCOASTers in homage to living on the West Coast. Students created drawings of historic buildings, rides and characters while demonstrating spatial reasoning. They closely examined structures and made decisions about where each creation will be placed in relation to others spatially. You can see the successful results above and below; check out this article for a report on the event and pictures of other sand structures.


Taking this Idea into Your Community
It's not the beach or the sand that get students the most excited, though. The creation process makes real-world opportunities endless and exciting for the children. They ask themselves, “What area needs to be built or further developed in our community?” In your community, the ideas are endless. Perhaps there's a local park that needs to be redesigned, an old building that closed down and needs to be redeveloped for a different use, or a new school playground that needs to be created. Regardless of what you decide to let students create, by the end of this project, the entire classroom will see how their ideas turned from paper-and-pencil to a real structure. If you're stumped for ideas, have students brainstorm by reading applications for redevelopment from the office of city planning.   

Architects, engineers and contractors can assist students in drawing out their ideas. Once students complete their drawings, they identify commonalities and trends among their peers. They agree on these trends and design a final drawing that incorporates everyone's thinking in small groups. So, now it's time to build, but you may be thinking, “How do we do this?” 

Kinetic Sand & 3D Printers
All of the students had the opportunity to build their drawings by using kinetic sand. This unique mixture of sand and silly putty turns student drawings into 3D models. If you're one of the 25 schools participating in the Sandcastle Classic, it is also a quick opportunity to learn whether or not students' ideas can be built on competition day at the beach. If you're not on the beach, it's a quick compare-and-contrast to other building materials, like concrete and brick.

Students can create things like the exterior of buildings, the interior of offices, or the layout of a park. The sky is the limit when building with kinetic sand! Students can compare their models and develop final, complete structures incorporating all of their ideas. Students eventually present this model to the architecture firm, contracting company, and engineering teams for final approval.

Those teams can then take the model and render many different options that will ultimately continue to inspire young minds to become builders. Teams that have participated in the Sandcastle Classic have gone as far as creating 3D scaled and printed models for students to explain. They have also used 3D printers to produce student models, and have developed scaled replicas that show the students' plans. 

Whether it's a sandcastle monument, a kinetic sand model, or a 3D printed replica… If we build it, students will come--and be able to explain how it was built. 



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