Pop-Up Projects Part II: 10 Things I’ve Learned from Paper Engineering Projects

When we assigned the pop-up project for The Odyssey, it was an experience of trial and error. Here are the 10 things I learned from that experience – both what worked and what I would do more efficiently.


  1. Plan Ahead: Pop-up tutorials and experimentation take time! If you plan to take a class period to make a simple pop-up card, plan for two days. Some students will pick up paper engineering quickly, while others may take longer. Give students enough time to learn, practice, and then create the final project. Even if some students finish early, there is always room to add!


  1. Start Simple: Teach students the most basic pop-up mechanisms. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish with 3-4 simple pop-ups. Once students understand the principles behind pop-ups, then they can easily research other mechanisms and add them to their work.


  1. Show How It’s Done: With large class sizes and limited resources, it may be difficult to show students how to create pop-up mechanisms. Use a document camera to show students how to fold, where to fold, what to cut, where to glue, etc. Provide students with step-by-step instructions and visuals so they can follow along. Assign students as “Pop-Up Pros” and have them help you teach other students that need another tutorial or one-on-one help.


  1. Save on Supplies: Pop-up projects require paper and lots of it. The best type of paper for pop-ups is heavier weight card stock. But when students are starting out with pop-up mechanisms, practice on whatever paper students have available. Save the good stuff for the final projects. Same goes for glue. Consider using glue sticks to start and then use rubber cement, glue dots, or the like when completing a final project.


  1. Utilize the Paper Possibilities: Illustrated pop-up projects can be intimidating for students, especially those that struggle with drawing. Cutting paper into to create a scene can be an excellent alternative to drawing everything. This style also creates a simplistic, child-like quality to it that can be perfect for such an audience.


  1. Start Small: Pop-up projects are unlike other projects students have done before. It requires a different type of thinking so scaffold the projects accordingly. Start with a holiday or special occasion card. Then, work your way up to illustrated children’s books.


  1. Give the Project Purpose: Completing a pop-up project is a rewarding experience for students. Give them an audience for their hard work, whether it be a card or a read aloud for younger students. An audience increases student motivation and engagement.


  1. Become a Pop-Up Pro Yourself: If you don’t know what you’re doing very well (like me that first project!) then it is really hard to teach others. Take some time to create some pop-ups yourself to understand how they work. Then, it will make it easier to explain and show the kids how they work.


  1. Collaborate: Work with other teachers to complete a project. Find some common ground and work together to delegate responsibilities. If you teach all subjects in a contained classroom, consider creating a cross-curricular project with Reading, Math, Science, and/or History. Pop-ups require some basic knowledge of angles and the science of force.


  1. Make Mistakes: Kids are afraid to make mistakes. Pop-up projects require students to try and try again. At time, it can be frustrating, but when students accomplish their pop-up goals, the reward make it worth it.


Use pop-up projects for 1-2 day activities before an extended break to take the pressure off and show students it is easier than they might think. Then, move on to more complicated activities that develop over a more prolonged period. But above all, have fun!

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