Published on September 23, 2017
Students gain first-hand experience with the steps of the scientific method as well as the overarching engineering design process as they conduct lab research with the aim to create a bioplastic with certain properties. Students learn about the light mechanism that causes ultraviolet bead color change, observe the effect of different light waves on a phosphorescence powder, and see the connection between florescence, phosphorescence and wavelength. Students compose hypotheses and determine experimental procedure details, as teams engineer variations on a bioplastic solid embedded with phosphorescence powder. The objective is to make a structurally sound bioplastic without reducing its glowing properties from the powder embedded within its matrix. Groups conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses of their engineered plastics, then recap and communicate their experiment conclusions in the form of a poster, slides and verbal presentation. As an extension, teams make their own testing apparatuses. As a further extension, they combine all the group results to determine which bioplastic matrix best achieves the desired properties and then “manufacture” the optimum bioplastic into glowing toy figurine end products! Many handouts, instructions, photos and rubrics are provided.
Published on September 9, 2017
Students are introduced to two real-life problems that can be solved by using the engineering design process. For the first one, they follow along with a slide presentation that describes how a group of students built an organizer to help organize their teacher’s desk. The presentation introduces students to the key steps in the engineering design process. Next, in discussion groups, they read through a scenario in which middle school student Marisol struggles to keep her locker organized. They read the case study together, stopping and discussing at key points to share ideas and consider Marisol’s progress as she moves through the engineering design cycle to design and implement a solution. As an optional hands-on activity extension, students construct their own locker organizer using scrap materials. This introduction to the engineering design process sets up students to be able to conduct their own real-world design projects. A case study handout, group leader discussion sheet and slide presentation are provided.
Published on August 31, 2017
Students apply high school-level differential calculus and physics to the design of two-dimensional roller coasters in which the friction force is considered, as explained in the associated lesson. In a challenge the mirrors real-world engineering, the designed roller coaster paths must be made from at least five differentiable functions that are put together such that the resulting piecewise curving path is differentiable at all points. Once designed mathematically, teams build and test small-sized prototype models of the exact designs using foam pipe wrap insulation as the roller coaster track channel with marbles as the ride carts. Project constraints students must consider include: initial cart velocity of zero (at the highest point), and final path end velocity of zero. The design must be efficient enough that the initial potential energy of the body is sufficient for it to complete the entire path. To achieve an efficient design, students use a formula obtained in the associated lesson—one that gives the velocity of a spherical body rolling on a curved path when friction is present. This equation considers the body’s energy lost due to friction, and is used to estimate the maximum height the marble may reach after rolling from a hill. Students use Excel® to make these calculations and graph the designed path and velocities. To conclude, teams summarize their procedures, designs, results, and theory-vs.-reality experiences in a slide or video presentation to their classmates, including their small-scale physical models. This activity and its associated lesson are designed for AP Calculus. A pre-quiz, PowerPoint® presentation, spreadsheet calculations/graphs (with and without calculus), and student instructions/grading rubric are provided.
A Tale of Friction Lesson
Published on August 30, 2017
Roller coasters projects are frequently used in middle and high school physics classes to illustrate the principle of conservation of mechanical energy. Potential energy transforms to kinetic energy and vice versa, with gravity being the driving force during the entire process. Even though friction force is mentioned, it is rarely considered in the velocity calculations along the coasters’ paths. In this high school lesson, the friction force is considered in the process. Using basic calculus and the work-energy theorem for non-conservative forces, the friction along a curved path is quantified, and the cart’s velocity along this path is predicted. This activity and its associated lesson are designed for AP Calculus. Practice problems/answers, a PowerPoint® presentation and student notes are provided. The starting point in this analysis is the solution found using the work-energy theorem to the problem of a spherical body rolling on an incline when friction is present. This approach is extended to a spherical body rolling on a curved path. Assuming that a curved path can be approximated by a sequence of many very short inclines, the problem is approached as a body rolling on this sequence of inclines, solving each with the work-energy theorem. Defining the curved path as a differentiable function, the slope of each incline is obtained through the function derivative. Formulas for the coefficient of static friction, friction force and velocity are found and through them, values of these properties along the curved path can be determined. Students use these equations in the associated activity to design and construct simple roller coasters that consider the friction present, using a flexible material like foam pipe insulation as the coaster’s path and a marble as the cart.
Can You Hear Me Now? Activity
Published on August 2, 2017
Students apply their knowledge of linear regression and design to solve a real-world challenge to create a better packing solution for shipping cell phones. They use different materials, such as cardboard, fabric, plastic, and rubber bands to create new “composite material” packaging containers. Teams each create four prototypes made of the same materials and constructed in the same way, with the only difference being their weights, so each one is fabricated with a different amount of material. They test the three heavier prototype packages by dropping them from different heights to see how well they protect a piece of glass inside (similar in size to iPhone 6). Then students use linear regression to predict from what height they can drop the fourth/final prototype of known mass without the “phone” breaking. Success is not breaking the glass but not underestimating the height by too much either, which means using math to accurately predict the optimum drop height.
Published on July 19, 2017
Students build solar USB chargers using solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and other components.
Out-of-the Box: A Furniture Design + Engineering Challenge Maker Challenge
Published on July 14, 2017
Student teams are challenged to design and build architecturally inspired cardboard furniture, guided by the steps of the engineering design process. They cultivate their industrial engineering and design skills to design furnishings that meet functional, aesthetic and financial requirements. Given constraints that include limited building materials and tools, groups research architectural styles and period furnishings. The teams brainstorm ideas, make small-scale quick prototypes, then make detailed plans and create full-scale prototypes of their best solutions. The full-size prototypes are evaluated by peer critique for aesthetic alignment to the targeted architectural style and tested for functionality. After final refinements, teams present their concepts and display their final prototype furnishings in an exhibition.
Published on July 3, 2017
Using ordinary household materials, student “biomedical engineering” teams design prototype models that demonstrate semipermeability under the hypothetical scenario that they are creating a teaching tool for medical students. Working within material constraints, each model consists of two layers of a medium separated by material acting as the membrane. The competing groups must each demonstrate how water (or another substance) passes through the first layer of the medium, through the membrane, and into the second layer of the medium. After a few test/evaluate/redesign cycles, teams present their best prototypes to the rest of the class. Then student teams collaborate as a class to create one optimal design that reflects what they learned from the group design successes and failures. A pre/post-quiz, worksheet and rubric are provided.
Published on June 28, 2017
Working as if they are engineers aiming to analyze and then improve data collection devices for precision agriculture, students determine how accurate temperature sensors are by comparing them to each other. Teams record soil temperature data during a class period while making changes to the samples to mimic real-world crop conditions—such as the addition of water and heat and the removal of the heat. Groups analyze their collected data by finding the mean, median, mode, and standard deviation. Then, the class combines all the team data points in order to compare data collected from numerous devices and analyze the accuracy of their recording devices by finding the standard deviation of temperature readings at each minute. By averaging the standard deviations of each minute’s temperature reading, students determine the accuracy of their temperature sensors. Students present their findings and conclusions, including making recommendations for temperature sensor improvements.
Published on June 23, 2017
Students investigate the bone structure of a turkey femur and then create their own prototype versions as if they are biomedical engineers designing bone transplants for a bird. The challenge is to mimic the size, shape, structure, mass and density of the real bone. Students begin by watching a TED Talk about printing a human kidney and reading a news article about 3D printing a replacement bone for an eagle. Then teams gather data—using calipers to get the exact turkey femur measurements—and determine the bone’s mass and density. They make to-scale sketches of the bone and then use modeling clay, plastic drinking straws and pipe cleaners to create 3D prototypes of the bone. Next, groups each cut and measure a turkey femur cross-section, which they draw in CAD software and then print on a 3D printer. Students reflect on the design/build process and the challenges encountered when making realistic bone replacements. A pre/post-quiz, worksheet and rubric are included. If no 3D printer, shorten the activity by just making the hand-generated replicate bones.
Published on June 20, 2017
Students operate mock 3D bioprinters in order to print tissue constructs of bone, muscle and skin for a fictitious trauma patient, Bill. The model bioprinters are made from ordinary materials— cardboard, dowels, wood, spools, duct tape, zip ties and glue (constructed by the teacher or the students)—and use squeeze bags of icing to lay down tissue layers. Student groups apply what they learned about biological tissue composition and tissue engineering in the associated lesson to design and fabricate model replacement tissues. They tangibly learn about the technical aspects and challenges of 3D bioprinting technology, as well as great detail about the complex cellular composition of tissues. At activity end, teams present their prototype designs to the class.
Published on June 20, 2017
Students learn about the current applications and limitations of 3D bioprinting, as well as its amazing future potential. This lesson, and its fun associated activity, provides a unique way to review and explore concepts such as differing cell functions, multicellular organism complexity, and engineering design steps. As introduced through a PowerPoint® presentation, students learn about three different types of bioprinters, with a focus on the extrusion model. Then they learn the basics of tissue engineering and the steps to design printed tissues. This background information prepares students to conduct the associated activity in which they use mock-3D bioprinters composed of a desktop setup that uses bags of icing to “bioprint” replacement skin, bone and muscle for a fictitious trauma patient, Bill. A pre/post-quiz is also provided.
Creative Crash Test Cars Maker Challenge
Published on June 14, 2017
How does mass affect momentum in a head-on collision? Students explore this question and experience the open-ended engineering design process as if they are the next-generation engineers working on the next big safety feature for passenger vehicles. They are challenged to design or improve an existing passenger compartment design/feature so that it better withstands front-end collisions, protecting riders from injury and resulting in minimal vehicle structural damage. With a raw egg as the test passenger, teams use teacher-provided building materials to add their own safety features onto either a small-size wooden car kit or their own model cars created from scratch. They run the prototypes down ramps into walls, collecting distance and time data, slo-mo video of their crash tests, and damage observations. They make calculations and look for relationships between car mass, speed, momentum and the amount of crash damage. A guiding worksheet and pre/post-quiz are included.
Published on June 9, 2017
Given a hypothetical civil engineering scenario, student pairs are tasked to apply their knowledge of the rock cycle, rock types, rock weathering and the engineering design process to model a potential method to create a sandy beach from three rocky island shorelines. For their abrasion weathering models, they use wide-mouth lidded jars and three types of candies that serve as the testing “rocks.” They simulate both low- and high-energy weathering environments. After completing the simple weathering techniques and analyzing their observations of the results, they conclude by recommending to the island developer which rocky shoreline would be the easiest, simplest, and most cost-effective from which to create a sandy beach. A worksheet and pre/post quiz are provided.
Mmm Cupcakes: What’s Their Impact? Activity
Published on June 7, 2017
Students learn about life-cycle assessment and how engineers use this technique to determine the environmental impact of everyday products and processes. As they examine what’s involved in making and consuming cupcakes, a snack enjoyed by millions of people every year, students learn about the production, use and disposal phases of an object’s life cycle. With the class organized into six teams, students calculate data for each phase of a cupcake’s life cycle—wet ingredients, dry ingredients, baking materials, oven baking, frosting, liner disposal—and calculate energy usage and greenhouse gases emitted from making one cupcake. They use ratios and fractions, and compare options for some of the life-cycle stages, such as different paper wrapper endings (disposal to landfills or composting) in order to make a life-cycle plan with a lower environmental impact. This activity opens students’ eyes to see the energy use in the cradle-to-grave lives of everyday products. Pre/post-quizzes, worksheets, activity cards, Excel® workbook and visual aids are provided.
Cool Puppy! Maker Challenge
Published on June 2, 2017
Students are given the engineering challenge to design and build doghouses that shelter a (toy) puppy from the heat—and to create them within material, size and cost constraints. This requires them to apply what they know (or research) about light energy and how it does (or does not) travel through various materials, as well as how a material’s color affects its light absorption and reflection properties. They build their doghouse designs and test them by taking thermometer readings under hot lamps, and then think of ways to improve their designs. This is a great project for learning about light and heat: energy transfer, absorption, insulation and material properties, and easily scales up/down for size and materials.
Edible Algae Models Activity
Published on May 16, 2017
Students make edible models of algal cells as a way to tangibly understand the parts of algae that are used to make biofuels. The molecular gastronomy techniques used in this activity blend chemistry, biology and food for a memorable student experience. The models use sodium alginate, which forms a gel matrix when in contact with calcium or moderate acid, to represent the complex-carbohydrate-composed cell walls of algae. Cell walls protect the algal cell contents and can be used to make biofuels, although they are more difficult to use than the starch and oils that accumulate in algal cells. The liquid juice interior of the algal models represents the starch and oils of algae, which are easily converted into biofuels.
Published on May 16, 2017
Students are introduced to biofuels, biological engineers, algae and how they grow (photosynthesis), and what parts of algae can be used for biofuel (biomass from oils, starches, cell wall sugars). Through this lesson, plants—and specifically algae—are presented as an energy solution. Students learn that breaking apart algal cell walls enables access to oil, starch, and cell wall sugars for biofuel production. Students compare/contrast biofuels and fossil fuels. They learn about the field of biological engineering, including what biological engineers do. A 20-slide PowerPoint® presentation is provided that supports students taking notes in the Cornell format. Short pre- and post-quizzes are provided. This lesson prepares students to conduct the associated activity in which they make and then eat edible algal cell models.
Light-Up Plush Pals Activity
Published on May 11, 2017
Students make their own design decisions about controlling the LEDs in a light-up, e-textile circuit, plush toy project that they make using LilyPad ProtoSnap components and conductive thread. They follow step-by-step instructions to assemble a product while applying their own creativity to customize it. They first learn about the switches—an on/off switch and a button—exploring these two ways of controlling the flow of electric current to LEDs and showing them the difference between closed and open circuits. Then they craft their creative light-up plush pals made from sewn and stuffed felt pieces (template provided) that include sewn electric circuits. Through this sewable electronics project, students gain a familiarity with microcontrollers, circuits, switches and LEDs—everyday items in today’s world and the components used in so many engineered devices.
Big Data, What Are You Saying? Activity
Published on May 3, 2017
Students act as R&D entrepreneurs, learning ways to research variables affecting the market of their proposed (hypothetical) products. They learn how to obtain numeric data using a variety of Internet tools and resources, sort and analyze the data using Excel and other software, and discover patterns and relationships that influence and guide decisions related to launching their products. First, student pairs research and collect pertinent consumer data, importing the data into spreadsheets. Then they clean, organize, chart and analyze the data to inform their product production and marketing plans. They calculate related statistics and gain proficiency in obtaining and finding relationships between variables, which is important in the work of engineers as well as for general technical literacy and decision-making. They summarize their work by suggesting product launch strategies and reporting their findings and conclusions in class presentations. A finding data tips handout, project/presentation grading rubric and alternative self-guided activity worksheet are provided. This activity is ideal for a high school statistics class.
Night-Light Pennant Activity
Published on May 1, 2017
Students learn the functions of pre-programmed microcontroller units such as the LilyMini ProtoSnap as they use them to create light-up pennants with LED components. Students design their own felt pennants and sew on circuit components using conductive thread. This activity gives students hands-on experience with engineering technologies while making creative pennants with LED lights that can illuminate in three pre-programmed sequences: all on, breathing, and twinkle.
Chernobyl Empathy Activity
Published on April 26, 2017
Student groups are given captioned photographs of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant facility and surrounding towns taken before and 28 years after the 1986 disaster. Based on the captions and clues in the images, they arrange them in sequential order. While viewing the completed sequence of images, students reflect on what it might have been like to be there, and ask themselves: what were people thinking, doing and saying at each point? This activity assists students in gaining an understanding of how devastating nuclear meltdowns can be, which underscores the importance of responsible engineering. It is recommended that this activity be conducted before the associated lesson, Nuclear Energy through a Virtual Field Trip.
Published on April 26, 2017
Students learn about nuclear energy generation through a nuclear power plant virtual field trip that includes visiting four websites and watching a short video taken inside a nuclear power plant. They are guided by a handout that provides the URLs and questions to answer from their readings. They conclude with a class discussion to share their findings and reflections. It is recommended that students complete the associated activity, Chernobyl Empathy, before conducting this lesson; doing this assists students in gaining an understanding of how devastating nuclear meltdowns can be, which underscores the importance of careful engineering.
Published on April 25, 2017
Global wind patterns are dictated by the movement of the Earth on its axis and are significant factors in determining the climate for regions of the planet. Students learn how the Coriolis effect and Hadley convection cells determine the location of deserts on Earth. They manipulate inflated plastic globes to discover how the Coriolis effect drives wind clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Then they incorporate latitudinal differences onto this modeling exercise to understand why deserts form at 30 degrees north and south of the equator. Once students understand the importance of global winds, they discuss hydropower in the desert. They compare and contrast two case studies: China’s Three Gorges Dam, and Chile’s proposed plant in the Atacama Desert that would creatively use solar power to move seawater up to the top of a mountain so that it can flow back down and generate power. Students note the economic, environmental, cultural and social impacts, issues and benefits of both power plants. Then they reflect, write, debate and discuss their ideas and opinions using evidence from the case studies and their own research.
Solar Farm Cost-Benefit Analysis Activity
Published on April 19, 2017
A cost-benefit analysis is a good way to weigh the costs and the benefits and compare them to see if the decisions being made are sound and worthwhile. For a hypothetical solar farm design problem, students are given a solar cost-benefit analysis sheet to complete within groups. They weigh the expense and benefits of two types of solar panels (with different costs, wattage outputs and land impacts), consider the cost of using the acreage for solar (which removes it from ranching use), and explain why they consider the panel combination they propose to be best. If the costs outweigh the benefits, then a project is not worth doing. On the other hand, if the benefits outweigh the costs, then it is worth implementing the plan.
Published on April 19, 2017
Students act as mining engineers and simulate ore mining production by using chocolate chip cookies. They focus on the cost-benefit analysis of the chocolate ore production throughout the simulation, which helps them understand the cost of production. As students “mine” with tools such as paperclips and toothpicks, they keep records of their costs—land (cookie), equipment used, cookie size before and after production, and time spent. While the goal is to make as much profit as possible, other costs and goals are taken into consideration—as in real-world mining engineering. For example, mining engineers also consider the resulting amount of destruction to the lithosphere when deciding the best method to obtain ore. Thus, a line item for land reclamation cost is included from the beginning. A provided worksheet serves as a profit and loss statement.
Paper Circuits Greeting Cards Activity
Published on March 27, 2017
Light up your love with paper circuits this Valentine’s Day—no soldering required! Create a sure-to-impress flashing birthday card or design a light-up Christmas card—all with paper circuits! In this activity, students are guided through the process to create simple paper circuitry using only copper tape, a coin cell battery, a light-emitting diode (LED) and small electronic components such as a LilyPad Button Board. Making light-up greeting cards with paper circuitry is great way to teach the basics of how circuits function while giving students an outlet to express their artistic creativity.
Do the Robot! Programming a RedBot to Dance Maker Challenge
Published on March 15, 2017
Students program the drive motors of a SparkFun RedBot with a multistep control sequence—a “dance.” Doing this is a great introduction to robotics and improves overall technical literacy by helping students understand that we use programs to control the motion and function of robots, and without the correct programming, robots do not operate as intended and are unable to complete simple tasks that we count on them to perform. Students are given the basic code and then time to experiment, alter and evolve it on their own. As time permits, students may also want to construct and decorate frames and chassis for their robots using found/recycled materials such as cardboard boxes.
Molecular Models and 3D Printing Activity
Published on March 14, 2017
Students are challenged to use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create “complete” 3D-printed molecule models that take into consideration bond angles and lone-pair positioning. To begin, they explore two interactive digital simulations: “build a molecule” and “molecule shapes.” This aids them in comparing and contrasting existing molecular modeling approaches—ball-and-stick, space-filling, and valence shell electron pair repulsion (VSEPR)—so as to understand their benefits and limitations. In order to complete a worksheet that requires them to draw Lewis dot structures, they determine the characteristics and geometries (valence electrons, polar bonds, shape type, bond angles and overall polarity) of 12 molecules. They also use molecular model kits. These explorations and exercises prepare them to design and 3D print their own models to most accurately depict molecules. Pre/Post quizzes, a step-by-step Blender 3D software tutorial handout and a worksheet are provided.
Designing an Elliptical Pool Table Activity
Published on March 7, 2017
Students learn about the mathematical characteristics and reflective property of ellipses by building their own elliptical-shaped pool tables. After a slide presentation introduction to ellipses, student “engineering teams” follow the steps of the engineering design process to develop prototypes, which they research, plan, sketch, build, test, refine, and then demonstrate, compare and share with the class. Using these tables as models to explore the geometric shape of ellipses, they experience how particles rebound off the curved ellipse sides and what happens if particles travel through the foci. They learn that if a particle travels through one focal point, then it will travel through the second focal point regardless of what direction the particle travels.