The Making of a Mini Golf Course

A new, collaborative unit of study

Alex is fabricating the arms of a battery-powered windmill with a 3D printer.

Audrey is rolling a little ball on felt to determine how fast and far a panda’s mouth should open and close.

Max is thinking through how to convert the circular motion of a motor into the linear motion of a boat that moves back and forth.

The high school engineering students are building prototypes of obstacles for a mini golf course. Their work is being closely observed by their clients--groups of fifth graders.

“I think it’s fun to watch them work with their tools,” said one of the fifth graders.

The first KL Innovation Cohort implements new ideas

This new unit of study--implemented over several months, across disciplines, and between schools--was  created by Juli Hoffman, librarian at Increase Miller Elementary School, and Steve Zoeller, engineering teacher at John Jay High School. The collaboration was made possible by their participation in the first KL Innovation Cohort which provided them with the necessary time, space, mentors, and inspiration.

Fifth graders at Increase Miller Elementary School came up with the concepts for the mini golf obstacles. 

Librarian Juli Hoffman organized the students into teams and led them through the investigation and generation of ideas process. Students used their imagination to come up with putt-putt challenges that included a moving element.

 “It was hard for them to determine their direction,” said Hoffman. “Everyone had their own idea and they had to compromise.”

Ryan Erb, an Increase Miller parent and architect, helped the students refine their ideas into 1:1 scale drawings for the high school engineering class. The elementary school teams also built their own greens—8” x 11” platforms made of foam board and balsa wood topped with felt.

The Engineering Design Process in Action

a powerful experience

The two age groups only met face-to-face twice. In that way, the arrangement reflected the remote aspects of working life today. Most of the time, questions and answers happened over SeeSaw—an app through which the students could leave video messages for each other. Families also used the app to monitor the project.

Elementary students had the powerful experience of seeing what they envisioned take shape. High school students experienced the power of the engineering design process—how plans are shaped and improved through building a prototype and testing it.

“I didn’t know where this project would take students," said Zoeller. “It was designed to place students in a situation of trying new things and seeing where it leads.”

Some of the final challenges!

Teachers also learned by developing the unit of study together

“The most important thing I came to consciously realize is that my ideas get better when bounced off of, and developed in conjunction with, other professionals,” said Hoffman. “Collaborating with Steve Zoeller and tapping into his design and engineering expertise brought the golf course unit from good to great.

“Participating in the Innovation Cohort, implementing new classroom activities as a result, and reflecting upon the results of those units really helped to reinforce for me how much my students appreciate learning experiences that are active, project-based, authentic, and relevant to their daily lives,” continued Hoffman. “They truly flourish when they are not working in a vacuum but communicating with a relevant audience outside of the four walls of my library.”