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Monthly Editor's Pick

preview of 'Soil from Spoiled: Engineering a Compost Habitat for Worms' Activity

September 2020

Soil from Spoiled: Engineering a Compost Habitat for Worms Activity

A unique activity for young learners that combines engineering and biology, students design an optimal environment for red wiggler worms in a compost bin using the engineering design process. Students learn about living and non-living things, the habitat of red wigglers, how red wigglers help convert organic waste into soil, as well as composting in nature and as a sustainable practice.

preview of 'Keep Your Cool! Design Your Own Cooler Challenge' Maker Challenge

August 2020

Keep Your Cool! Design Your Own Cooler Challenge Maker Challenge

Engage students in this refreshing summer project that focuses on design thinking! In this challenge, students prototype an ice cooler and monitor the effectiveness of its ability to keep a bottle of ice water cold in comparison to a bottle of ice water left at room temperature. Along with engaging in the engineering design process, students assess the effectiveness of their cooler by measuring the room temperature, the starting temperature of the water and graphing and monitoring the change in temperature over time.

preview of 'Prodigious Printing Possibilities ' Activity

July 2020

Prodigious Printing Possibilities Activity

3D printing (or additive manufacturing) is transforming the way engineers design, prototype, and build. Engage your students with this unique introduction to the mechanics of 3D printing as they transform into engineers and they work in teams to carry out a 3D printing task. Their mission: "print" using a blunt-tip needle syringe and a variety of colored liquid materials (shampoo, conditioner, aloe, and hand sanitizer) into a small plastic box filled with a gel base.

preview of 'Toxic Island: Designing Devices to Deliver Goods' Maker Challenge

June 2020

Toxic Island: Designing Devices to Deliver Goods Maker Challenge

A classic engineering challenge involves designing and building devices that can deliver necessary goods to “Toxic Island,” an island that has been quarantined by the World Health Organization due to a nasty outbreak of disease. In this maker challenge, students design a device that must not touch the water or the island, and must deliver supplies accurately... and quickly!

preview of 'Insulation Materials Investigation' Activity

May 2020

Insulation Materials Investigation Activity

Engineers design thermal insulation for countless products and purposes, including pipe installations, shipping and handling for food and beverages, space travel, and even our clothing! In this activity, students learn about the role that thermal insulation materials can play in reducing heat transfer by conduction, convection and radiation, as well as the design and implementation of insulating materials in construction and engineering.

preview of 'The Dirty Water Project: Design-Build-Test Your Own Water Filters' Activity

April 2020

The Dirty Water Project: Design-Build-Test Your Own Water Filters Activity

Create and test a water filter at home! This hands-on activity allows students to investigate different methods for removing pollutants from water, including aeration and filtration. Have your students design, build, and test their own filter prototypes by conducting their own "dirty water projects."

preview of 'Out-of-the Box: A Furniture Design + Engineering Challenge ' Maker Challenge

March 2020

Out-of-the Box: A Furniture Design + Engineering Challenge Maker Challenge

Engage students in a unique approach to engineering and aesthetics with cardboard furniture designs! Challenge students to design and build architecturally inspired cardboard furniture, cultivate their industrial engineering and design skills, and allow them to explore how to meet functional, aesthetic and financial requirements of a given plan. Let form follow function!

preview of 'Trebuchet Design & Build Challenge ' Activity

February 2020

Trebuchet Design & Build Challenge Activity

Ready, set, launch! Students explore a classic engineering design used during the Middle Ages to launch projectiles over or through castle walls as well as study modern day examples used in events such as the "Punkin’ Chunkin’." Students work in teams research how to design and build their own trebuchets from scratch while following a select number of constraints. They test their trebuchets, evaluate their results through several quantitative analyses, and present their results and design process to their classmates.

preview of 'Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering' Activity

January 2020

Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering Activity

Engage young learners in a tasty activity to help them understand the basic steps of the engineering design process! Students are introduced to what engineers do in their daily lives through several books on engineering and then role play as engineers to produce a set of purple popsicles. They follow the steps of the design process and learn how engineers solve problems through products that make the world a better and more efficient place.

preview of 'Visualize Your Heartbeat' Maker Challenge

December 2019

Visualize Your Heartbeat Maker Challenge

Challenge students to become biomedical engineers who design, create, and test a medical device! This project allows students to explore basic coding, utilize the capabilities of microcontrollers, and understand how sensors gather data about the human body so they can dive into the expanding world of wearable tech. This is a great project for a high school senior design team!

preview of 'The Benefits of Inclined Planes: Heave Ho!' Activity

November 2019

The Benefits of Inclined Planes: Heave Ho! Activity

Engage students' understanding of a classic simple machine: the inclined plane! A great activity for young learners, students use a spring scale, a bag of rocks, and an inclined plane to explore how dragging objects up a slope is easier than lifting them straight up into the air. Students are also introduced to the scientific method and basic principles of experimentation. Engineers continually look for new tools to make life easier, and the inclined plane is certainly one of them!

preview of 'Mathematically Designing a Frictional Roller Coaster ' Activity

October 2019

Mathematically Designing a Frictional Roller Coaster Activity

With their breathtaking elevation changes and thrilling speeds, roller coasters rides are the star attractions of amusement parks—and engineering plays a huge role in their design! All the various loops, curves, and dips work because of gravity, inertia, and friction. Guide students through the engineering design process as they build a simple roller coaster, all while considering the same forces that professional engineers do when designing rides.

preview of 'Creative Crash Test Cars' Maker Challenge

September 2019

Creative Crash Test Cars Maker Challenge

How does mass affect momentum in a head-on collision? Using a raw egg as a "crash test dummy" students take on the challenge of designing safety features for wooden car kits. By running the prototypes down ramps into walls, collecting distance and time data, and videotaping of their crash, students make calculations and look for relationships between car mass, speed, momentum and the amount of crash damage sustained by their vehicles.

preview of 'Creating an Electromagnet' Activity

August 2019

Creating an Electromagnet Activity

We may not even realize that we interact with electromagnets on a daily basis, but engineers use them in a wide range of designs including refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, doorbells, and even clocks. When it comes to using electromagnets, the possibilities are endless! This activity is an attractive way to engage students in building and testing the properties of several electromagnetic designs right in the classroom.

preview of 'Spaghetti Bridges' Activity

July 2019

Spaghetti Bridges Activity

Explore the world of civil engineering and become a bridge designer using a favorite food: spaghetti! In this activity, students play the role of civil engineers by making bridges out of spaghetti, and then test their designs by applying weight in order to see when they break. Allow your students to create designs using a variety of different pastas and see which bridges can last the longest under stress!

preview of 'Sled Hockey Design Challenge' Activity

June 2019

Sled Hockey Design Challenge Activity

Engineering helps democratize sports by introducing designs that allow individuals with physical disabilities to compete. Explore the engineering behind one such innovation used in sled hockey: the sled hockey stick! By applying geometric methods to solve design problems as well as through tension and flexure testing, students build hockey sticks that can face-off against the rigors of game play on the ice. Shoot for the goal in this unique engineering challenge!

preview of 'Cool Puppy! A Doghouse Design Project' Maker Challenge

May 2019

Cool Puppy! A Doghouse Design Project Maker Challenge

Design a doghouse to keep our furry friends safe during the summer! Students use the engineering design process to build and test doghouses that will shelter a "puppy" from heat and light sources. This maker challenge lets students build a number of doghouse designs while considering material, size, and cost constraints. Later, students test them by taking thermometer readings under hot lamps and then think of ways to improve their designs—a great project for learning about energy transfer, absorption, insulation, and material properties.

preview of 'Engineering Polymers from Potatoes' Activity

April 2019

Engineering Polymers from Potatoes Activity

What can the properties of a potato tell us about polymer science? Have your students take on the role of chemical engineers to create and test a plastic made from starch extracted from an everyday tuber! After testing their potato-based plastic, students design a product that takes advantage of the polymer’s unique properties. This activity guides students through the fundamental engineering concept of why a change in the chemical structure of polymer molecules affects the properties a plastic.

preview of 'A Zombie Got My Leg Challenge: Making Makeshift Legs' Activity

March 2019

A Zombie Got My Leg Challenge: Making Makeshift Legs Activity

Engineer a prosthetic leg and save a team member from a zombie horde! The scenario: a group of students must rush to build a prosthesis for an injured individual who "lost" their leg to amputation. Using the full engineering design process, students act as engineers to design and fabricate a replacement limb using specific starting materials. The students also face the additional challenge of overcoming a set of constraints, but time is running out... and the zombies are approaching!

preview of 'Requirements & Constraints: Making Model Parking Garages' Activity

February 2019

Requirements & Constraints: Making Model Parking Garages Activity

Draw like an architect, design like an engineer! In this cross-disciplinary activity, students learn what it means to follow a set of requirements and meet given constraints as they create their own model parking garages. Student teams follow the engineering design process as they design, build, and test their models. Along with drafting blueprints of their designs, students select construction materials and budget their expenditures. They also test their structures for strength and calculate maximum loads. Which model garage can hold the most cars while standing up to the challenge?

preview of 'Descriptive Measurements: Don't Confuse Your Qs!' Activity

January 2019

Descriptive Measurements: Don't Confuse Your Qs! Activity

What's the difference between a "qualitative" measurement and a "quantitative" one? In this activity, students examine these key measuring concepts and learn how engineers use them when designing or evaluating a product. After gaining an understanding of what goes into a qualitative and quantitative assessment, students put their newfound knowledge to the test by using a ruler, scale, and pencil to describe and measure a variety of classroom objects.

preview of 'Simple Snow Load Roof Model Demo: Which Roof Is Tops?' Activity

December 2018

Simple Snow Load Roof Model Demo: Which Roof Is Tops? Activity

How do civil engineers design structures that can withstand local weather conditions? Whether you live in a climate with heavy snowfall or not, this engaging activity helps even very young students consider the advantages of different roof shapes under a "snow load" by sprinkling cups of flour onto model houses. What happens to snow when it sits on a curved roof? What are the design advantages to building an A-frame roof versus a flat roof? As a class, test the roof shapes of three “model” houses. Then discuss and explore different shapes and materials to create buildings that are strong enough to exist in a winter wonderland!

preview of 'Test & Improve: Making Tall & Strong Recycled Towers' Activity

November 2018

Test & Improve: Making Tall & Strong Recycled Towers Activity

Can engineers build soaring towers with reused materials? While reinforced concrete and steel reign supreme as traditional building materials, many engineers are exploring ways to incorporate reused and recycled materials into their designs. In this activity, elementary-level students take on the role of engineers to design their own towers! Along with the challenge of designing their towers under a number of constraints, students also simulate "stress tests" to test the stability of their designs. Will your students' designs hold up under the simulated strong winds and earthquakes?

preview of 'Exploring Variables While Testing & Improving Mint-Mobiles' Activity

October 2018

Exploring Variables While Testing & Improving Mint-Mobiles Activity

On your mark, get set, build! Using lifesaver-shaped candies, plastic drinking straws, Popsicle sticks, and other simple craft materials, students design, build, and test model race cars as a way to explore independent, dependent, and control variables. After constructing their "mint-mobiles," it's time for the race! Students measure the changes in distance traveled while adding mass to their vehicles. Through this activity, students engage in the steps of the engineering design process by brainstorming, planning, building, testing, and improving their racers. Wave the green flag, and let the engineering begin!

preview of 'Mountain Rescue: Transmitting & Receiving Code Messages' Activity

September 2018

Mountain Rescue: Transmitting & Receiving Code Messages Activity

Crack the code, engineer a rescue, and be the hero! In this engaging activity, students encode, decode, transmit, receive and store messages for a hypothetical rescue mission. They are challenged to rescue four misguided climbers who are stranded on a snowy mountainside—with temperatures plummeting fast! Once students find the climbers, it's a race against time to communicate to basecamp using coded messages about whether or not the climbers are injured. Additionally, students need to communicate the climbers’ locations using only flashlights, a map, and a code sheet. Through this activity, students practice coding and decoding, which are important aspects in electrical and computer engineering. Several activity extensions enable students to explore real-life coding and communication applications.

preview of 'Designing Harmonic Timing Devices: Ready, Set, Escape' Activity

August 2018

Designing Harmonic Timing Devices: Ready, Set, Escape Activity

Ready, set, escape! In this open-ended design activity, students are challenged to create a simple yet accurate timing device that measures a period of exactly three minutes in order to enable a hypothetical prison escape. Constrained with limited supplies, students exercise their creativity and engineering knowledge to design devices. They also follow the steps of the engineering design process and document this on a student handout: they brainstorm ideas, select the best solution to pursue, and sketch their designs. After building prototypes, students test and record their times, and then iterate their designs for improvement—to obtain a more accurate time. During this process, students learn about harmonic design while observing and explaining the effects of conservation of energy. This activity aligns to NGSS, ITEEA as well as state science standards.

preview of 'Model Earth Core Samples: What’s Down There?' Activity

July 2018

Model Earth Core Samples: What’s Down There? Activity

How is oil found? In this hands-on elementary-level activity, students explore the layers under the Earth’s surface and learn how they are used by engineers to find and extract oil. Students learn how fossil fuels are formed over time and where they can be located under the Earth's crust. Student groups use six colors of modeling clay to make models of the planet Earth. They learn about core drilling as a method to find oil using cores taken from deep below the Earth’s surface. They use clear plastic drinking straws to model core drilling and take core samples—as if they are looking for fossil fuels. Then the teams analyze their samples and make informed decisions as to whether or not they should "drill for oil" in specific locations. This activity aligns to NGSS and includes a helpful YouTube video that models the activity.

preview of 'Just Like Kidneys: Semipermeable Membrane Prototypes' Activity

June 2018

Just Like Kidneys: Semipermeable Membrane Prototypes Activity

As one of our partner teachers said, “This is a great open-ended design activity with lots of redesign built in—and it ends with the class building the best prototype membrane with contributions from each group.” The challenge is to make a semipermeable membrane prototype that does not immediately let water pass through. Students brainstorm, create and experiment with possible solutions. They get valuable practice in evaluating competing design solutions for how well they meet the criteria and constraints, and modeling cell functions like osmosis and diffusion—experiences that meet engineering and science NGSS. Typically, many middle school students have heard of dialysis and might know that it has something to do with filtering blood. After this activity, they will have experienced a cool engineering design project and gained a better understanding of how filtering occurs in this common medical procedure. A pre/post quiz, student worksheet and project rubric are provided.

preview of 'Class Lava Crossing Challenge: Hot Problem Solving' Activity

May 2018

Class Lava Crossing Challenge: Hot Problem Solving Activity

The challenge: get the entire class from one location to another spot 20 feet away without touching the ground between because it is covered in hot lava! In this open-ended, physically active elementary-age activity, the entire class works together to problem solve—and learn the steps of the engineering design process as they go. Together, students brainstorm, sketch and compose a well thought-out plan, which they test and revise outside. A concluding discussion connects students' problem-solving experience to real-life engineering challenges, such as inventing new products or better ways to run a factory. Keep this activity handy for a day when the kids want to be outside—or for an ice-breaker, afterschool club or summer camp! Includes a design and brainstorming handout. Meets NGSS and ITEEA engineering design standards.

preview of 'Solving Everyday Problems Using the Engineering Design Cycle' Activity

April 2018

Solving Everyday Problems Using the Engineering Design Cycle Activity

Can’t find anything in the closet? Broken backpack strap? Bookshelf that keeps falling over? Being able to “solve everyday problems” is a skill worth cultivating! This exemplar activity shows middle school students how to apply the engineering design process to daily life situations that need improvement—and it meets all four NGSS engineering design standards. Students learn the steps through a slide presentation and a written case study with photos. They walk through two real-life examples of how kids figured out and implemented solutions to improve a teacher’s homework return process with a desk organizer and address the chaos of a student’s school locker. They learn to define project criteria and constraints, brainstorm ideas, evaluate multiple possible design solutions, and optimize the best solution. This prepares students to develop their own innovations to real-life problems, and to conduct the optional open-ended hands-on extension—to creatively design and construct their own locker organizers using scrap materials. Students gain the tools to view the world as a place where they can actively make a difference.

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