Topographic Sandbox Eagle Project

Hello,  my name is William Black, and I’m a boy scout with Troop 122, in Beaumont, Texas.  I’m asking for your help in funding my eagle project to benefit Marshall Middle School, and hopefully Odom Academy as well.

Eagle projects take many forms and help schools, churches, and non-profit organizations throughout the community.  Other recent projects in our troop have included remodeling a church youth building, building picnic tables and shelving for Boy’s Haven, and performing painting for both the West Brook marching band and wrestling team.

I'm hoping to build an Augmented Reality Sandbox for teaching topographic maps and watersheds.  The basic idea is you have a large sandbox where kids can move around sand to make landscapes with mountains, canyons, valleys, and rivers.  Above the box is mounted a Microsoft Kinect sensor which detects the variations in height of the sand, and sends the data to a computer running Linux.  Some open-source software interprets the data and sends it to a short throw projector which displays down onto the sand a colorful topographic map which is continually updated as the landscape changes.  You can even make it rain and watch how water would flow through the sandscape.

Topographic maps and watersheds are consistently some of the lowest scoring subjects in middle schools throughout our district due to the relatively flat nature of the area and students' decreased interaction with the outdoors. However, topography plays a big role in daily life in our area, despite the lack of drastic changes in elevation, because of the importance of flood planning and knowledge regarding drainage and the effects of pollution on local water supplies.

Students need an interesting, interactive way to learn about these subjects. An Augmented Reality Sandbox would provide fun and hands-on experience with topography and watersheds, while still in a classroom setting.  Additionally, the portability of the cart would mean that it could be easily transported around campus, to better fit with the schedules of any teacher who'd need it.  The cart could also be transported elsewhere for use in presentations at local science nights and elementary schools.

The original idea for the sandbox was developed through a National Science Foundation grant by Oliver Kreylos of the University of California, Davis. He posted basic instructions and his software online and since then, they have been popping up in museums and schools around the country.  UC Davis now hosts an online forum where people around the world share their adaptations and experiences of building them.  Some sandboxes are huge permanent fixtures which need a dedicated space.  Others are more makeshift and portable.

With some of my own ideas, help from the forum, and collaboration with teachers and students, I’m hoping to improve on the design, and make it best serve the needs of the classroom.  While it is possible to build one with less money, I want the sandbox to be beautiful, durable, and portable.  Investing in a better computer and higher-end graphics card will help the whole thing run more smoothly and make the water simulation seem more realistic – thereby providing a more impactful experience.  I’d like to use t-slotted aluminum extrusion profiles to build a sturdy cart able to roll throughout the school, and an adjustable projector framework which can be easily folded down for transport. 

The computer will be housed in a cabinet underneath the sandbox.  In between the aluminum structure will be wood paneling which will be decorated with custom laser engraving.  Everybody who contributes to this project, either through manual labor or financial support, will be acknowledged in the designs etched into the wood.

The benefits of this project go well beyond the final sandbox. Besides just boy scouts, middle school students from both Marshall and Odom are eager to participate in its construction. By doing so, they will acquire exposure to 21st century skills ranging from metal work, laser engraving, 3D printing, CAD design, and programming.

We’re hoping the sandbox will ignite some excitement and support for the school MakerSpace my father is starting, which will eventually empower Marshall students with the technology and skills to design and fabricate their own innovative and wacky creations. Look for more about the MakerSpace soon.

My project proposal has been approved by my Scoutmaster, Troop Committee, and the Three Rivers Council.  We will begin acquiring materials and construction as soon as enough funds are available.  We hope that the project will be ready for use by 7th and 8th grade classes when they cover topography and watersheds in the 3rd nine weeks of the school year.

Once the sandbox is working, I will collaborate with teachers to help make effective lesson plans and other extensions.

With the quality materials I want to use, we budget a cost of approximately $3500.  The GoFundMe platform charges 7.9% to cover their costs and credit card processing, bring the total cost for a sandbox to $3775.  However, Odom Academy has heard of the project and would very much like a sandbox of their own.  It’s easier to tackle two carts at once than each independently.  Our ultimate goal is to raise $7550 so students from both schools can participate, and feel pride as they demonstrate the carts in their schools and throughout local district Science nights.

Regarding accountability – everyone who contributes will get a receipt for their donation and copies of all materials purchase receipts will be posted to the GoFundMe site.  Any leftover funds will go directly to Marshall Middle School for use in their upcoming MakerSpace.


Please contribute now online, and share this campaign with your friends and family.

Thank You!
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Michael Black 
Beaumont, TX

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