Curricular Unit: Engineering Out of Harry Situations: The Science Behind Harry Potter

Contributed by: National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs, University of Houston

An artists' rendering of the boy wizard, Harry Potter, with a striped scarf, round glasses, book of spells, forehead scar and wand held high.
Harry Potter in Engineering!
copyright
Copyright © NYC Department of Education http://schools.nyc.gov/SchoolPortals/28/Q206/AboutUs/Photos/default.htm

Summary

Under the "The Science Behind Harry Potter" theme, a succession of diverse complex scientific topics are presented to students through direct immersive interaction. Student interest is piqued by the incorporation of popular culture into the classroom via a series of interactive, hands-on Harry Potter/movie-themed lessons and activities. They learn about the basics of acid/base chemistry (invisible ink), genetics and trait prediction (parseltongue trait in families), and force and projectile motion (motion of the thrown remembrall). In each lesson and activity, students are also made aware of the engineering connections to these fields of scientific study.

Engineering Connection

Evidence of human engineering is present in nearly every type of applied science field. Mechanical engineers use their knowledge of force and motion to build engines that transport goods and people, machines and tools, ranging from vacuum cleaners to assembly equipment in factories, which make our ways of life possible, along with many other types of devices. Structural engineers use their knowledge of force and motion to design structures that can withstand normal forces such as wind and atypical forces such as earthquakes, monsoons and hurricanes. Other engineers apply their understanding of genetics to the design of insect repellant crops, genetically modified food, cloning and stem cell research. Engineers use their knowledge of acid and base chemistry to design non-corrosive infrastructures, car batteries, chemical fertilizers and food preservation techniques. Engineering is truly all around us.

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Basically Acids

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Don't Be a Square

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Basically Acidic Ink

Students hypothesize whether vinegar and ammonia-based glass cleaner are acids or bases. They create designs on index cards using these substances as invisible inks.

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Projectile Magic

Students explore the relationships between displacement, velocity and acceleration and calculate simple projectile motion. The objective of this activity is to articulate concepts related to force and motion through direct immersive interaction based on the theme, The Science Behind Harry Potter.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Scientific investigation and reasoning. The student knows how to use a variety of tools and safety equipment to conduct science inquiry. The student is expected to: (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Matter and energy. The student knows that interactions occur between matter and energy. The student is expected to: (Grade 7) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Matter and energy. The student knows that matter is composed of atoms and has chemical and physical properties. The student is expected to: (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Scientific processes. The student uses a systematic approach to answer scientific laboratory and field investigative questions. The student is expected to: (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • design and implement investigative procedures, including making observations, asking well-defined questions, formulating testable hypotheses, identifying variables, selecting appropriate equipment and technology, and evaluating numerical answers for reasonableness; (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Unit Overview

Basically Acids and Basically Acidic Ink

In this lesson/activity set, students learn the basics of acid/base chemistry in a fun, interactive way, inspired by instances of acid/base chemistry seen in popular films such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and National Treasure. In National Treasure, characters apply lemon juice and heat to the back of the original Declaration of Independence to reveal an old message written in invisible ink. In the Harry Potter movie, a blank piece of parchment becomes a magical Marauder's Map. As students create their own invisible inks, they learn what acids, bases and indicators are and how they can be used. They also learn how engineers use acids and bases everyday better our quality of life.

Photo shows three cups of cabbage juice from above (pink, blue, dark blue/green) showing the indicator color range depending on whether acids or bases were added.
Using red cabbage juice as a pH indicator.
copyright
Copyright © 2010 Rachel Howser, GK-12 Program, University of Houston

Don't Be a Square

Students watch a video clip from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to learn about genetic traits. Specifically, they realize that the ability to speak parseltongue (being able to speak to snakes) is a genetic trait possessed by some characters and their parents. Students explore the use of Punnett squares to predict trait inheritance, learning about genotypes and phenotypes.

A foursquare grid with columns titled B and B, and rows titled b and b. The four square cells are each labeled Bb.
Example Punnett square.
copyright
Copyright © 2011 Rachel Howser, GK-12 Program, University of Houston

Projectile Magic and Magical Motion

In this lesson/activity set, students watch video clips from October Sky and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to learn about projectile motion. In October Sky, Homer Hickam calculates the trajectory of a homemade rocket in front of his science class. In the Harry Potter movie, Malfoy throws Neville's remembrall and Harry races after it, making a spectacular catch (all while flying on broomsticks). Then students explore the relationships between displacement, velocity and acceleration and calculate simple projectile motion.

A side-view diagram shows the arc pathway of a thrown round object.
Projectile motion of the remembrall (a device from the Harry Potter wizardry world).
copyright
Copyright © 2011 Rachel Howser, GK-12 Program, University of Houston

Unit Schedule

Contributors

Rachel Howser; Christine Hawthorne

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2011 University of Houston

Supporting Program

National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs, University of Houston

Acknowledgements

This digital library content was developed by the University of Houston's College of Engineering under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant number DGE-0840889. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: September 7, 2017

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