Mystery Monsters

Math Shapes and Cool Tools for Young Imagineers!

Think digital design and fabrication are too sophisticated for 6-year-olds? Think again! Challenge young students to create a 3D “Mystery Monster” with FabMaker Studio. Ask them to identify and combine shapes, weld shapes, and morph shapes. Encourage them to add 3D wings, legs, ears and other body parts. You’ll be amazed at what young children can create when they get their hands on friendly digital design and fabrication software.

Designing “Mystery Monsters” is a motivating way to address foundational math and engineering skills. It can also inspire meaningful writing prompts and support science standards. In the process, students learn easy but powerful digital design tools they can use for years to come. “Mystery Monsters” has been used successfully both in the classroom and for remote learning.

This project can be simple or sophisticated. Begin with Make Your Monster, then when you’re ready, move on to Morph Your Monster and Make Your Monster 3D. The following short videos and easy step-by-step directions will get you and your makers, young and old, up and imagineering in no time!

Make Your Monster

VIDEO #1: To get started, watch this short video, then follow the steps below to create your basic monster.

Step 1: New Project Click here to go to FabMaker Studio. Sign in and go to New Project and click OK.

Step 2: Choose Shapes Open the Shapes tool at the top. Drag shapes onto the screen and arrange them to make your basic monster. To resize a shape, select it and drag handles.

Step 3: Weld Shapes Make sure your shapes touch or overlap. Then place your cursor and drag around all the shapes to select them. Choose the Weld button in the left toolbar to weld your shapes. 

Tip: Be sure to drag far enough outside the shapes to select them all before welding.

Step 4: Rearrange If you want to rearrange your monster parts, you can Unweld. Select your monster and click the Weld button. This time, since your monster is already welded, it unwelds. Rearrange the shapes and then drag around to select them all and Weld again. 

Tip: Make a mistake? Use the red Undo and green Redo buttons on the left above the Trash can.

Step 5: Save Go to the File button on the top toolbar and choose Save. Select “My Online Files” (or another location if desired), give your file a name, and click Save.

Tip: If you save your FabMaker Studio file to My Google Drive or My Computer, it can only be opened from within the FabMaker Studio software.

Morph Your Monster

VIDEO #2: Watch this video then follow the steps that follow.

Step 1: Turn on Edit points With your monster file open, choose the gray Edit Points cursor in the top left corner of your design. The edit points that anchor your design will appear.

Step 2: Drag Edit points Drag edit points to morph your mystery monster.

Step 3: Add new Edit points Click anywhere on the outline to add a new edit point, and then drag the new edit point to reshape. Edit points can be tricky — sometimes it helps to zoom in. Play around. You can always Undo and Redo.

Step 4: Check your design Choose the standard cursor (black arrow) again to see your morphed monster.

Tip: If you Unweld after using Edit points, you’ll go back to your original shapes and lose all your morphing! Remember you can quickly Undo changes.

Step 5: Save Go to the File button on the top toolbar and choose Save or Save As

Make Your Monster 3D

VIDEO #3: Watch this video then follow the steps below.

Step 1: Make a new body part Use the Shapes and Lines tools to design wings, ears, legs, a bigger tail or other parts to cut separately and attach to your monster. Check the photos for ideas.

A. Shapes Tool: Choose a shape and use the handles to resize and reshape it. If you want,  combine two or more shapes, weld them, and then choose Edit Points to morph.

B. Lines Tool: Choose the Lines tool and then choose Straight Lines, Curved Lines, or Brush. When drawing with Straight Lines or Curved Lines, click to place each consecutive point. Double-click to place the final point. To close a shape, place your final point at or near the beginning point. For more detail on the Lines tool, see the FabMaker Studio Lines tutorial.

Step 2: Save Go to the File button on the top toolbar and choose Save or Save As.

Step 3: Print, cut and construct — or share a digital file

Share a digital file: For remote learning and low-tech settings where printers and cutters are not available, students can share a PDF or screenshot of their mystery monsters. They can also share the actual FabMaker Studio file so the teacher and other students can view, edit, print and fabricate. For more information on sharing files, go to FabMaker Studio Lessons & Tutorials and check the Quick Tips videos.

Print and cut by hand: Click the Print button at the top. If you want to color by hand or use color paper, select “Print Cut & Fold Lines” and “Remove Color Fill” on the Print Preview page. Then select Save to PDF and print. 

Cut with a Silhouette: If you want to color by hand or use color paper, you can send your design directly to the cutter. Click the Fabricate button at the top and follow instructions. Tip: Shapes have automatic cut lines, but objects created with the Lines tool do not. If you want the Silhouette to cut these objects, you need to define cut lines. For more information on cut lines and using the Silhouette, see the guides and videos on the FabMaker Studio Tutorials & Lessons page.

What To Do With a Mystery Monster?

  • Describe your mystery monster. How big is it? How does it move? Where does it live? What does it eat? Does it have any enemies?
  • Tell a story about your mystery monster.
  • Now that you’ve honed your design skills, create a real-life animal or an entire habitat complete with flora and fauna.

Written by Peggy Healy Stearns, lead designer of FabMaker Studio, the first digital design and fabrication software designed for elementary students. Created by the Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity in collaboration with Glen Bull and the UVA Make To Learn coalition. Available from FableVision Learning.

LED Lightboxes

It’s always fun when we can find projects that combine fabrication methods in new ways. This lightbox, based on a design from UVA graduate student Michael Clemens and built by 4th year student Shay Breneman, combines coding, 3D printing, and laser cutting/etching to produce a striking desktop ornament. All of the parts need can be found at the end of this post. You can design the shape of the case and the acrylic panels to suit your own individual style.

Lightbox designed and built by Shay Breneman
Shay Breneman

The first thing Shay did, was design her enclosure. Built into her enclosure are slots for eight acrylic discs, as well as openings for a power cable, on/off switch, and cycle button.

While the enclosure was being printed, Shay moved on to designing the pattern to be etched onto the discs.

Clear acrylic, when etched and lit from the side, will largely remain clear, with only the etched area picking up the color from the light. When additional layers of clear acrylic are placed behind the etched piece, they will create reflections the layer in front. With colored LEDs providing the light, this produces an almost holographic effect.

Shay used eight discs in our design, with images etched onto only the first five. The last three act as additional mirrors to provide more depth.

The electronic components are wired as shown below. A 9-volt battery can be used as a power source. Alternately, the ends of a USB cable, if stripped can be used to supply power. This will allow the lightbox to be plugged into a computer or other USB power supply. (Note: if using a USB cable to to power the lightbox, the green and white wires can be cut away. They normally carry data and will not be needed here.)

Wiring Diagram by Michael Clemens

Once all the components have been connected and fit into the case, they should look something like this:

Now, when plugged in, the switch in the back will turn the LED panel on, and the button on the front will cycle through the colors programmed into the Arduino.

To program the Arduino:

  1. Follow this link and download all files and folders.
  2. Using Arduino IDE, load all three files in the Libraries folder onto the Arduino.
  3. Upload the Neopixel Firmata to your Arduino.
  4. In Snap4Arduino, open the Libraries menu and import the Snap Blocks XML file.

Parts needed:

  1. Arduino Nano
  2. LED array
  3. 1/8″ Cast Acrylic
  4. SPDT Switch
  5. Momentary Push Button
  6. USB Micro Cable
  7. USB Wall Charger

Maker Spaces and Covid-19 Response

With the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that many hospitals and first responders are currently facing, the threat posed by the Covid-19 virus can be particularly scary. Luckily, while government agencies and corporate manufactures struggle to find a solution, local maker spaces are stepping in to bridge the gap.

In addition to many of the ingenious designs being shared, UVA engineering professor Kieth Williams has come up with the following design for a simple face mask. The pattern for it can be found at the end of this post.

First, the mask is sized in Silhouette Studio and then cut from heavy card-stock.
Then, assemble your frame with glue or tape and check the fit.
Finally, fit the filter material into the mask frame and attach it with glue around the edges.

Anything from simple tissues to pieces cut from HEPA filters can be used with the mask frame. When the mask has been used up, you can either remove and replace the filter, or cut an entirely new frame.

PLEASE NOTE: This is in not comparable with an N95 mask and should not be treated as such. This mask is designed less to protect the person wearing it, and more to protect the people around them.

.studio3 file
.svg file

Rubber Band Pop-ups

March 9, 2020
By Elaine Wolfe

Elaine Wolfe is a special guest editor. More information on her other projects can be found on her blog.

Rubber band pop-up polyhedrons are intriguing. They are the intersection of mathematics and physics. The process of compressing the figure stores energy in the rubber band inside the figure. When the collapsed two dimensional shape is allowed to be transformed back into a polyhedron, the stored energy makes the figure pop-up. These pop-ups are a fun way to explore mathematics and physics together.

Bifrustums and bicupolas are names given for different types of polyhedrons. For more information about them can be found here.

Materials Needed for this project:

  • 65 lb. card stock (This can be found at any craft shop.)
  • Aleene’s Tacky Glue. (This is a great quick-drying glue that doesn’t warp the paper when used sparingly.)
  • Glue Dots. (Use 3/8 inch Glue Dots rolled into balls and attached to the tail of the rubber band to keep the rubber band from slipping out of the hole with repeated opening and closing of the model.)
  • Scotch Tape to anchor the rubber band with the Glue Dot down to the tab.
  • 1/16 inch rubber bands. (Please note that different rubber bands may have different tensions. Lengths given here are an estimate.)
  • Scissors or an electronic paper cutter like a Silhouette or Cricut.


If you are cutting the models with scissors, here is the PDF.

If you are cutting the models with a Silhouette, here is the .Studio file.

If you are cutting the models with a Cricut, here is the SVG.

The Triangular Bifrustum

Notice in the photo above, the top half of the shape looks like a triangular pyramid without its top. A frustum is a section of an original solid. Since two of these sections are connected, this type of shape is referred to as a bifrustum, with “bi” meaning two.

In this post, we’ll be making a pop-up triangular Bifrustum. Instructions for additional shapes will be linked at the end of this post, and the techniques used here will apply to them as well.

Cut out the triangular bifrustum model and bend the tabs on each section as shown.

Cut and knot a rubber band with approximately 1 inch between the knots. Align the two sections as shown and glue the two pieces together.

Insert one end of the rubber band through the hole in the glued tab. Apply glue to the other folded edge with a round tab on it.

Press the two remaining round tabs together and press along the glued area to make sure the pieces adhere to one another.

Apply a Glue Dot to the tail of the rubber band, then cover both the Glue Dot and the tail with a piece of scotch tape.

Feed the other knotted end of the rubber band through the hole in the opposite round tab.

Repeat the process for gluing and taping on the the second tail of the rubber band.

Apply glue to the remaining tabs and press them together. Press the shape flat and apply pressure to adhere the glue.

After the glue has set, release the shape. The rubber band will pull the sides together, causing the shape to pop back up into a three dimensional object.

More Shapes:

For instructions on how to create additional shapes (as pictured at the beginning of this post), please refer to the document found here.