Learning by Making

It’s summer break, which means that while I want to be productive, I also want to have fun. This last week, I managed to bring together work and leisure and thought I’d share.

I’m currently working on developing assignments for the new LEGO FSEM, and this last week I also moved into my new office in Combs Hall. The layout of the office is a little challenging, as the desk (and therefore prof) is not visible from the door. Gary Stanton, who had the office before I did, came up with a brilliant solution: a convex mirror hung from the ceiling in front of the door. This allows students to see from outside whether anyone is in or not. Gary even allowed me to keep this fantastic McGuyverism. (Thanks, Gary!) Still, this solution is less elegant for me: unlike Gary, I don’t always keep the door open. I’m sometimes in my office with the door either ajar or closed, and for some reason students really dread knocking. So… Motivation to create something.

drawing showing layout of the office 

The other half of this equation is the LEGO FSEM. I’m still working in developing assignments, and honestly want to see my own process is making things. So, without further ado, my idea: a sign for my door, made out of LEGO, clearly stating whether I’m in or not. I wanted the sign to be sturdy, colorful, and easy to switch back and forth. Easy, right? Well, it took more work than I expected, but I’m quite satisfied with the result.

Drawings for options I thought about for the mechanism of the sign.
Options I thought about for the mechanism of the sign.

First I thought about mechanism. I thought a slider would be great but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Then I moved to a pivot idea, with a flip along the hinge. I even made a prototype with IN on one side and OUT on the other. But it didn’t look clean: putting LEGO bricks back-to-back is not a thing that comes naturally. Back to the drawing board.

Finally, looking at the various specialized bricks, I realized the ones with the front connector would work fine: I can just pick up and move the cover plate to cover IN or OUT. It’s not quite as nice as a slider would be, but it’s not likely to be moved accidentally, and is very durable since it only has one moving part.

Drawing showing LEGO brick layout
The last bit was to figure out size and colors to make sure the letters looked right. I sketched it out first to make sure I’d have the pieces necessary for each color. Then, I assembled. All in all, this took maybe four hours of (very fun) work. And now I think I’ll do a better job of writing my assignment descriptions for the FSEM. DOUBLE WIN!

Finished LEGO sign


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