How Does the Speed of Sound Vary with Altitude? Middle School Activity
Published on April 29, 2022
Understanding the layers of the atmosphere and their effects on aerospace designs helps engineers design explore the skies—and beyond! In this activity, students make sense of and use real world data to investigate a variety of phenomena including the speed of sound, waves, air pressure, humidity, and temperature at high altitude. Using data collected with payload sensors attached to a high-altitude balloon students examine, interpret, verify theoretical speed of sound equations. By graphing these data against other measurements such as air pressure, humidity, and temperature, students conclude that the speed of sound varies as a function of temperature, but not air pressure and humidity. Moreover, students determine that the speed of sound data loses accuracy at high altitude and low temperature, highlighting limitations of the data and challenges that engineers face when designing an experiment.
Watershed Delineation High School Activity
Published on March 31, 2022
Understanding watersheds can help engineers design systems that deliver or protect key sources of water. In this activity, students become civil engineers as they use topographic maps to delineate watersheds. Watersheds show the path water travels over land in a particular area on its way to a river, lake, or stream. Defining the boundaries of a watershed is important for determining the amount of runoff that can come from that area into the river, lake, or stream. The boundaries also help to identify sources of pollution that could mix in with that runoff as it passes over the land area.
Engineering a Seawall to Prevent Storm Erosion Elementary School Activity
Published on March 30, 2022
Preventing coastal erosion and loss of land due to storms is an important component of civil engineering, specifically among coastal engineers. In this activity, students become coastal engineers as they use their knowledge of storm/beach erosion to create seawalls out of recycled materials. In small groups, students use the engineering design process to consider the costs of materials and determine the best way to use their budget and their knowledge of each material to build a seawall to withstand erosion under storm conditions. After they develop their prototype, each team then takes measurements and observations about the effects of weathering upon their simulated beach. Students not only observe the effects of weathering, but they also use their knowledge of rocks and minerals to determine how to best construct their design.
Using Nature as the Solution: Biomimicry in Engineering Middle School Activity
Published on March 30, 2022
In this exploration of the natural world, students make sense of biomimicry through examples and think about situations where they could develop something using biomimicry. The first part of the activity has students think about the importance of water and introduces biomimicry. Students then learn about biomimicry from a TED Talk, explore examples of biomimicry through a station activity, and then visualize the lotus effect while thinking about the implications of the lotus effect on access to clean drinking water. This activity is the third in a sequence that introduces nanotechnology, bioengineering, and the importance of access to clean drinking water. This activity could be used to prepare students to begin designing their own water filter in a subsequent activity.
Exploring a Stream’s Flow Rate High School Activity
Published on March 1, 2022
The flow rate of a stream is the amount of water that passes a given point at any given time. The flow rate is a phenomenon that changes due to factors including, but not limited to, heavy rainfall, drought, or the collapse of watershed infrastructure, such as a dam. Therefore, the flow rate is a value that is measured on a continual basis. This monitoring is important for predicting flood conditions, monitoring water quality, managing and allocating water, and for recreational and safety purposes. In this activity, students explore their local stream by using a simple method to measure and calculate the flow rate of that stream. They compare their flow rate calculations measured to the peak flow rate and low flow rates found on the USGS StreamStats site for that location. Students then analyze their methods for measuring flow rate, discuss events that cause flow rates to change, and look at implications of increasing flow rates due to more frequent flood events.
Fun with Leaf Chromatography! Middle School Activity
Published on December 25, 2021
Shine a light on the fascinating world of chromatography! Students investigate different colored pigments in a variety of different colored leaves. By using isopropanol and chromatography paper, students separate the different pigments that make up the color of the leaf. They learn to analyze data by collecting and recording information after assembling an experiment in which they use the paper chromatography method. Students further learn about pigmentation by making sense of the process of the phenomena of photosynthesis. Students learn that producers (e.g., plants), have chlorophyll which absorbs the sunlight to produce the food they need to survive and the type of chlorophyll a plant has affects the color of the plant.
Using Data to Optimize Your Vending Machine High School Activity
Published on December 24, 2021
Using concepts of optimization and trade-offs, students must stock a vending machine with popular drinks so they can earn maximum profits to fundraise for a club. Students collect data to determine the most popular drinks among their peers and are presented with a scenario where they need to make an adjustment to their selection. They’re given real-world examples of optimizing in engineering to illustrate the importance of collecting data to improve design-making.
Snack Attack! Designing a Snack Holder out of Recycled Materials Elementary School Activity
Published on December 18, 2021
Reduce, reuse, recycle—engineer! In this activity that focuses on environmental awareness, students research and read books about various items and buildings made from recycled or reused materials. They then plan, design, and construct a storage space for an individual snack using the engineering design process. They consider key elements such as temperature control, budget, materials, and size.
To Pollinate or Not to Pollinate Elementary School Activity
Published on December 17, 2021
By studying how bees and flowers interact with one another, we can also understand engineering practices related to our environment! In this activity, students engineer a model of a flower to test different materials’ ability to pollinate another flower. In teams of two, students use the engineering design process to create a model of a flower out of construction paper and then test different materials by measuring and recording how much pollen is transferred. While discovering the most efficient material, students determine how the information they gain can help bees pollinate and they better understand the importance of bee conservation.
Thinking Small – Measuring Small Things High School Activity
Published on December 17, 2021
Explore unseen phenomena in the microscopic world through measurements and observations. In this activity, students are introduced to the concepts of size and scale and make sense of sizes at the nanoscale through a card sort activity, in which specific objects must be ordered by size. Students then explore the concepts of measuring small volumes and masses by using graduated cylinders and micropipettes. Finally, they think about how scientists and engineers might use a compound microscope to observe microscopic objects.
Can You Hear Me Now? Designing a Communication Device Elementary School Activity
Published on October 29, 2021
Can you communicate without electricity? In this activity, students explore a problem in which a school’s power has gone out and they need to deliver an important message to a neighboring first grade classroom. However, they must stay within the following constraints: they cannot use cell phones and they have to stay in their classroom while doing so. Students research and use a variety of tools and materials to build, test, and retest a device that communicates sound the most clearly while learning about and demonstrating how sound causes vibrations.
Absorbing Airplane Noise! Elementary School Activity
Published on October 28, 2021
Modern commercial aircraft are incredible examples of aerospace engineering, but they also emit large amounts of noise (as well as carbon emissions). That’s where engineering plays another role: to design buildings that can withstand or limit the amount of noise from a machine! In this activity, students engineer a solution to reduce airplane noise for a school located directly next to a large international airport. Using the engineering design process, they construct a model building that best keeps out loud sound so that students in the school are not disturbed throughout the day. Students research and use a variety of materials to create and build a model building (about 30 cm by 30 cm by 30 cm) that is soundproof or lets in the least amount of sound. Materials cost money and students are limited to a given budget. Each building is tested and re-tested based on what worked and what did not not work well.
Evaporation and Transpiration: What’s Your Function? Middle School Activity
Published on October 20, 2021
What’s the difference between two common agricultural methods? What are the roles engineers play in designing better methods? In this activity, students calculate evapotranspiration rates--the amount of water lost from evaporation and transpiration in a growing media (such as a pot or jar) and plant surfaces-- for living plants using soil and hydroponics. By recording changes in plant weight, students calculate evapotranspiration rates and determine which of the two growing methods is best for their design.
Paper Towers and Pool Balls Design Challenge High School Activity
Published on October 19, 2021
How can teamwork and project-based learning help us understand engineering practices? In this activity, students are presented with two problems that must be solved physically. In the first problem, they must construct the tallest tower possible out of limited materials. In the second problem, they must find a way for a rolling pool ball to take a set maximum time to cover a specified distance. Students create and follow a design and are assessed by the performance of their creations. The students use the Engineering Design Process (EDP) to complete the two hands-on activities. This is an experiential learning experience for the student where they learn to collaborate ideas between teams, while also competing against each other. The sharing of knowledge is the path.
Balancing Liquid on a Coin: How Intermolecular Forces Work High School Activity
Published on October 19, 2021
What can the act of balancing liquid on the surface of a coin tell us about the water molecules and molecular formulas? In this activity, students observe different types of intermolecular forces of water through two simple experiments. During this introductory activity students have hands-on experience visualizing the effects of hydrogen bonding through surface tension and evaporation.