Strawblox Design Principles

No More Marshmallows and Spaghetti!

While building structures with spaghetti and marshmallows, or even straws and blue tack, will result in simple structures, those structures never last well or can demonstrate engineering principles by taking load. We wanted to come up with a construction system that was incredibly cheap for classroom use that would allow teachers and students to cheaply, reliably, creatively and stably explore together. The connectors allow for very strong structures to be built from simple drinking straws that cost pence and the connectors themselves are neutral enough to be used in a variety of lessons and are sturdy enough to come out of the cupboard time again.

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Making mathematical shapes accessible

At I Can Make, we are all fans of the Science Museum’s gallery of Mathematical Shapes. We’ve wanted for a while to make these shapes more widely available through 3D printing. The print times and costs for solid versions of those shapes are quite high, if they’re made at a reasonable size for children to hold and interact with. When we looked at the solid shapes, we also realised that the different angles and sizes of sides are also less visible than they are if you make them with a construction system. We’ve started with a few simple connectors to make some simple mathematical shapes but we’ll be adding to these over the next few weeks to create more complex, more challenging shapes.

Strong, afffordable, replaceable

School budgets are precious things and we need to do all we can to help schools make them go further. We wanted to ensure that Strawblox were a cost effective option. Once a school has a 3D printer they can be made for between 10 pence and 20 pence per connector. The connectors are strong and will take a lot of use! The straws that you use are standard drinking straws. The cross-braced cube example uses only £2 of materials at most.

A flexible design to make an endless set of geoemetries

The deisgn is based around a radial array of tubes around a spherical core. The sphere at the centre ensures that all tube lengths are the same to aid building shapes reproducibly. The discs along which the radial array is located can themselves be placed at different angles to allow very complex geometry to be produced. We’ve provided a RhinoCAD file of the basic 90 degree connector ball on our GitHub site and will add in files compatible for other CAD programs over time.

Open ended play

There is excellent evidence and precendent around the value of open ended play for children, both in educational settings and in the home. When we started creating a resource for engineering and mathematical structures we wanted to create a system that could allow for the open ended creation of those resources but didn’t just end there. The more we have been playing with the connectors, and importantly been watching children playing with them, the more we hope we’re hoping we’ve created a low cost system for open ended play. This doesn’t preclude making specialised blocks, as any parent who has seen a Lego truck with teeth will attest.

Open for unknown possibilities

One principle we, and others, have learned from projects such as GOV.UK, the UK government website, is “Make things open, it makes them better”.

In this light we want to open them up so that the education community, the maker community, everyone can get involved, add extra designs and improve on our work.

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You can download the latest zip file of all of the different Strawblox components.

Over the next few weeks we'll also be adding files for groups of components that make a particular object and files for multiples of connectors to make your making quicker.

Download a set to 3D print