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Yes We Can! Middle Schoolers Build A Life-Sized Woolly Mammoth

You know those dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History?

A Riverdale Country School group built one during Project Week.

It was an audacious idea, and it succeeded through a combination of imagination, improvisation, and teamwork.

To begin, they went to the American Museum of Natural History to study the skeletons of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, including the new Titanosaurus, the largest creature to ever walk the earth. They started to think big, really big.

Then they spent two days assembling the life-sized woolly mammoth out of more than 70 plywood parts that their art teachers, Jason Ruff and Miles Cameron, had prepared using the ShopBot, CNC router and a schematic from makecnc.com. The original plans were intended for a 9-inch model, so considerable redesigning and engineering were needed to create a 13-foot-tall structure.

Working from illustrations, the students assembled the parts and affixed them with glue and metal L brackets secured with screws. They painted the structure with clear polyurethane to protect it from the elements.

In the process, they learned how to use the laser cutter and ShopBot. Many pieces needed small modifications or sanding before assembly so students learned to use hand tools and power saws. A custom steel frame had to be built to support the weight of the mammoth as it was being built, so they learned the basics of welding. Some pieces were so large that students had to work together to move them into place. Communication was essential.

Why a woolly mammoth?

Cameron and Ruff said they wanted to build something immense. “We wanted to be able to walk underneath it and feel small compared to it,” they said. And they were drawn to the mammoth because of its mythic qualities. Quoting the artist Damien Hirst, the teachers said that the mammoth comes from a world “that we cannot ever fully understand.”

Does your school do something similar?

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