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Guest Post: Dixons Trinity Academy Product Design Build Concrete Speakers

This week we have a guest post brought to you by Phil Wickham of Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford, who was inspired to get his class to build their own concrete speakers following a similar project by Nottingham Trent University, involving our Mono Amp kit.

When thinking about what kind of electronics project to run for my year 8 students this term, I wanted it to be fun, relevant and something students would take pride in designing and constructing. I thought a speaker for students to plug their music device into would be a good start. As I looked online, I found Kitronik supplied a very simple Mono Amp circuit as a kit. This was affordable and offered a sample for free which enabled me to build an example to show the idea to the students. The initial idea of the speaker casing was developed by a former work colleague; Richard Heafield had created a speaker project for his year 9 classes which had proven successful. My initial project was conducted with year 8 students and was very popular; it motivated students throughout all lessons.

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I work at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford (part of the Dixons MAT); we are the first Free School to be rated outstanding by Ofsted in every category. At Dixons Trinity, we are educating students how to use social media effectively and safely; it was through twitter that we saw an image re-tweeted by Kitronik of a speaker made using concrete from students studying at Nottingham Trent University. I thought the product looked amazing and started to think about whether it would be possible to reproduce in school. Concrete is not a material that is widely used in schools for product design so I thought: why not, let’s give it a go! I researched the project through the links posted on twitter by @NTU_concrete and worked out how the speaker was made. I made an example and showed it to my top set year 8 group. I gave them the choice between the two different designs and they all wanted to make the concrete speaker; they all had the same response, “It just looks really cool, Sir”.

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After seeing the initial example on twitter, I followed the link to @NTU_concrete where the process was outlined. I changed the detailed scheme of work that I had written to include this new process of using concrete. The designing element of the project comes with students using CADCAM skills to create the front piece of acrylic. After I had made the example, the students suggested some extra elements they would like to add. Students wanted to engrave detail onto the acrylic and spray paint onto the concrete. Students created stencils on 2D Design and spray painted them on the concrete in a pastiche of graffiti-style. The void in the centre of the concrete was made using hardboard and shaped on the laser cutter. The students needed to assemble all the pre-cut pieces and make a box to go around this void to generate the mould ready to pour in the pre-mix concrete (I didn’t want to use cement powder with the students for health and safety reasons).

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Once the mould was poured, we left it for one week to set, we then removed the plywood mould and left it for another week to dry and cure.

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The final step was to remove the void leaving only the concrete using watered-down PVA glue to finish. Students then designed their acrylic fronts using CADCAM, printing them out on the laser cutter. Once the front was ready to apply, we deployed black paint to bring out the engraving on the acrylic and a small pre-cut insert was used to hold the speaker in place; the acrylic front was glued on using an epoxy resin.

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I was initially concerned that all the students would end up with very similar outcomes; however; each concrete pour was different due to how it was mixed. Some moulds are smooth and very accurate using a wet mix; whereas, others have a more abstract form owing to students having used less water in the mix resulting in gaps displaying the gravel elements.

Throughout this process I asked students to feedback to each other on their designs, suggesting next steps on how they could improve aspects of their design. They talked about colour choices, design ideas, and even changing the acrylic design.

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Students, during the review of the initial example, wanted to add detail to the front of the acrylic. Getting students to think about designs and how to incorporate them into their speaker took some time as did encouraging students to create unique designs; this was interesting to watch as they were constantly seeking peer recognition as reassurance of their design choices.

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As a Design Technology teacher, using as many materials as you can (and finding fun ways to apply them) opens up so many options. Using concrete in schools is very rare and I have not seen it used before. Kerry Truman gave the idea to Nottingham Trent University students (@NTU_concrete) and I have applied this into the classroom with my year 8 students. The appearances of the final outcomes are so different, giving each student’s work individuality. Students can customise their work but, at the end, the product still serves its function: a speaker and looks incredibly different to anything on the open market.

This project comes complete with a differentiated work booklet to document design and analytical work which is available through my website www.dynamicdisplays.co.uk

A special thanks has to go to Richard Heafield, Kitronik, @NTU_ concrete and Kerry Truman. Kerry, in particular, for letting me use his idea and proving that concrete is a material that we should be using in schools.

 

Phil Wickham

Teacher of Art & Design

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