By Bill Holden, Product Development Specialist
Some students don't easily connect to STEM activities. The idea of working with motion and forces, torque, engineering iterations, data acquisition and analysis, or quadratic equations or even competing head-to-head in a race is neither engaging nor motivating. However, activities that have an art component (the A
in STEAM) can be a vehicle (pun intended) for some students to connect to STEM concepts.
The art component within the Clay Car Modeling activity focuses on the design of a car. It includes the shape, contour lines, relative sizes of various components, and how all of this fits together in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
While initial ideas for the car design can come from looking at actual cars, the activity allows students the freedom to go beyond known styles and create their own style.
Car designs typically begin in 2-D with sketches of the car, with views from the front, side, rear, and top. Students may make several sketches, but one design must eventually be chosen as the starting point. Using the sketches as a reference, students can produce more exact drawings by using drafting tools or software.
Clay cars can also model existing cars, so those students who resist coming up with their own design can model a Mustang, Beetle, or Silverado. In this instance, students can work from actual vehicle dimensions, drawings, or photos.
At this point, a scale needs to be determined for the model. Scaling is a mathematical process and is a necessary tool for most design work. It is good way to show the relevance of math even in artistic endeavors. Typically, a 1/20 scale will provide a model car that is about three inches wide and about a foot long.
The clay car model is built on a wood base that includes support framework (an armature). Students cut blocks of foam to create a form smaller than the final model by half an inch in each direction and then connect these blocks to the armature. After applying a coat of shellac, clay will be added to the foam block to form the actual car body. The grand details of this and other processes are included in the Dr. Zoon Clay Car Prototypes Video
For modeling cars, hard styling clay is used. It should be heated in a small oven so it softens. Care must be taken to ensure the clay is the proper temperature for use by students. A half-inch layer of this soft clay pressed over the foam forms a thick skin. Using templates created from drawings or photos of the design, students use clay tools to remove excess clay and begin shaping the clay to fit their design.
A clay steel tool is used for much of the shaping process, removing and shaping the clay. Slicks are used to smooth the surface of the clay. Students use wire loops to add contour lines and cut away clay to form specific elements of the car, like doors and door handles. A sponge is used to further smooth the clay surface. Proper use of these tools can be seen in the video.
As students shape and mold the clay, they use templates to ensure the dimensions of the model correspond with the intended design. Occasionally, more warm clay will need to be added if too much clay has been removed. After the clay has been molded, shaped, and smoothed, students can add wheels and accessories to round out the appearance of the model.
Working with the clay can be a long process, but watching the model come to life is exhilarating. For some students, this may be the one STEM activity they can get STEAM’ed up about!
Clay Modeling Tool Kit
Hard Styling Clay