9. The Right Tool

Students will design and produce a tool to improve or modify a specific process.

Depending on the level of the students, there is a Measurement standard that can relate directly to the project.  Feel free to go to the CCSS website and find the one that matched your students the best.

Standards for Mathematical Practice
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4: Model with mathematics.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP5: Use appropriate tools strategically.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP6: Attend to precision.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP7: Look for and make use of structure.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will design and produce a tool to improve or modify a specific process.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of SAE and/or Metric units by creating a tool for a specific job.
  • Students will test their product for reliability, applicability, and quality in the field.
  • Students will market their product to a specific audience using any form of advertisement.

Group Size: 3 to 4 students, depending on how many variations you would like students to compare within the class setting. For a smaller class, groups of 2 would be ideal.

Class Size: up to 36 students

Materials Required

Assumptions being made:

  • Students have a good understanding of 3D modeling. Prior to incorporating this lesson into a unit, it is recommended that students have had training on Google SketchUp.
  • Students have a good understanding of SAE and Metric units.
  • If students do not have a good understanding of SAE and Metric, take the time to review it, considering this is a large goal of the project.

To begin the lesson, give the students an opportunity to search or see various tools that a mechanic, carpenter, construction worker, fashion designer, architect, etc. would use to complete a specific task.  Depending on the time and depth allotted for the project, a history lesson on how tools have evolved to meet our demands (here’s a timeline of innovation) would be a great tangent to take.  For the sake of this lesson, we will dive right into the tool design itself.

Once students have had ample time (20-30 minutes) to search for peculiar tools and specific tools, assign them the task of thinking about a process that they feel needs to be improved by a certain tool that does not currently exist (at least in the capacity that they are thinking about).  The goal is to generate a product that could potentially improve the life of someone in need of the tool, so giving students time to genuinely think about this would be beneficial.

After each group has come up with some brainstorm ideas, have them sketch their thoughts onto a piece of paper.  Visualization of a unique product is a difficult chore, so this step is essential.  Within a certain timeframe set by the instructor, students will need to commit to one specific tool and work collectively to optimize its chances for success.  Students should be able to answer the following questions prior to designing their product:

  • What is this tool going to do that is not currently being done?
  • Why is this an improvement over what already exists?
  • Where did you get your inspiration for this new tool?
  • What other ideas did your group come up with that were discussed?

The Meat
On paper, students will work in groups to design a tool that eases a specific process that they have identified.  All dimensions need to be included on the draft before showing the instructor.  Following the check by the instructor, students will use a 3D modeling program, such as Google Sketchup, to design their product in 3D.

To ensure that everything lines up accurately, groups will check their classmates’ designs prior to showing the instructor.  The instructor will need to confirm the students’ drawings as best as possible before sending it to print. 

Once the design has been printed, students will clean it up and verify all measurements for accuracy.  Assuming that all measurements match up, they will then proceed to:

  • Photograph their product for their advertisement (if it is a static ad).
  • Test out their product in a simulated environment in which it is intended to be used, taking video for their advertisement (if it is a static ad).
  • Reflect on what went well and what they would improve on if they had a chance to print again.
  • Create a marketing plan to sell your product to a specific group of people or industry.
  • Set a desired cost for the tool, including shipping, based on cost to create the product and cost of shipping.

For the advertisement, students have the option of their medium.  Whether it is creating  a website, video commercial, radio commercial, magazine ad, billboard, or many others, the key is to be creative in the area that the students are comfortable.  During this portion of the project, students will need to work efficiently within a deadline provided by the instructor.

Following the creation, students will showcase their advertisement with the class.  If there is a way to bring in a professional from a few fields that students are trying to support, it would be ideal to bring them in for the advertisements to add authenticity to the critique.  If there are local business owners who can come in, this would also be a great addition.


  • What were some of the challenges in designing the tool?
  • What did you learn during the project?
  • During this project, have you seen the need for a more effective tool?

Just like in a Research and Design lab for major companies, the feedback and reflection on these projects will be the best part.  Give students an opportunity to talk within their group and amongst their classmates to seek advice on improvements or modifications.

Desired Outcomes
A desired outcome is something unique that students create to aid them or a family member/friend ease their workflow.  The openness of the project limits the ability to predict an ideal product.

Some Possible Extensions/Modifications
To bring this down a level, provide students with the task of recreating a small tool that they can use to solve a problem.  Anywhere from a chisel to a screwdriver to a carpenter’s square can be used to test students’ knowledge of units and still give them a chance to create an incredible product.

To bring this up a level, have the students poll members of the community to ask them about what tools they use the most and what task(s) they would like to be done more efficiently with small tools.  From there, develop a tool in collaboration with the professional that requested it and market it with them.

Once You’re Finished
Once finished with the project, have students give their product to a professional in the field that they are in and have them use it to the point of failure.


Content & Instruction Developed by:
John Stevens – Airwolf 3D STEM Consultant
Instructional Coach – Technology
Chaffey Joint Union High School District
CUE Rockstar Faculty & Organizer
Google Certified Teacher
TwitterBlogResourcesAuthor (Flipping 2.0)