A modified sphere, made of short metal rods and rising well above head height, was nearing completion Wednesday afternoon when murmurs of disbelief started to ripple through the crowd of about 25 Analy High School students.
The base was too large, meaning there would not be enough pieces to complete the top of the sphere and finish the geodesic dome.
Teacher Casey Shea presented two options: Dismantle the nearly completed structure and begin again another day, or break it down partially, remove the misplaced pieces and build it up again — a choice that would push the kids after the close of the school day.
The students in Analy's new Project Make class hesitated for about four seconds. Do it again and this time do it right, they said.
"It's the most incredible teamwork," Shea said.
The Project Make class is in its first year at Analy and backers say it's a one-of-a-kind venture — not only in California but in the nation — in which students are asked simply to make things.
Housed at Make magazine headquarters within the O'Reilly Media facilities in Sebastopol, the class is sponsored by O'Reilly and Make magazine publisher Dale Dougherty.
"School is a lot of the time about theory but not enough about practice," Dougherty said. "I actually believe it's a great way to teach science and technology and math for kids who don't see the relevance."
"It's an old idea that has been forgotten, I think: Learn by doing," he said.
Shea, a math teacher at Analy, doesn't let his charges forget the math and science behind what they are doing — even if they are atop ladders in a sunbaked parking lot.
"Trust the math!" he exhorts his charges as they contort to make the hand-cut and tapered poles fit into place.
"All of my classes are really academic and I really wanted to take a hands-on class where I could learn skills like soldering," said senior Carys Stamp who hopes to pursue a genetics or biology major in college. "It's really autonomous and really good. I'm definitely getting some skills."
The autonomous portion of the class — students are encouraged to find a project and pursue it on their own — was not on display Wednesday as students readied for a community open house today.
Around the corner from the dome, a team of six sophomores crouched intently over a wooden, circular cutout about four feet in diameter. As two students reinforced hole cuts in a vinyl cover, others scrambled to find a handmade adapter for a leaf blower.
The students then attached the leaf blower to their contraption, creating a pillow of air under the wooden disk.
Voila — a hovercraft sturdy enough to scoot 120-pound Melanie Mesagno across the sidewalk like a puck on an air hockey game.
Success on Wednesday marked the end of a frustrating road for the team, as earlier versions of the craft either tore, warped or couldn't get a guinea pig off the ground.
Mesagno's ride elicited whoops from teammates.
"It's really unique," sophomore Jessie Davidson said of the class. "It's like woodshop, electronics, programming. It's kind of art. It's everything."