Engineering Polymers from Potatoes High School Activity
Published on February 12, 2019
Students are introduced to polymer science and take on the role of chemical engineers to create and test a plastic made from starch. After testing their potato-based plastic, students design a product that takes advantage of the polymer’s unique properties. At the end of the engineering design process, students present their product in a development “pitch” that communicates their idea to potential investors.
Creating Silver Nanoparticles High School Activity
Published on February 8, 2019
Students create silver nanoparticles using a chemical process; however, since these particles are not observable to the naked eye, they use empirical evidence and reasoning to discover them. Students first look for evidence of a chemical reaction by mixing various solutions and observing any reactions that may occur. Students discover that copper and tannic acids from tea reduce silver nitrate, which in turn form silver. They complete the reaction, allow the water to evaporate, and observe the silver nanoparticles they created in plastic dishes using a stereo microscope. Students iterate on their initial process and test to see if they can improve the manufacturing process of silver nanoparticles.
Designing a Color-Changing Paint Using pH Middle School Activity
Published on January 30, 2019
How can an understanding of pH—a logarithmic scale used to identify the acidity or basicity of a water-based solution—be used to design and create a color-changing paint? This activity provides students the opportunity to extract dyes from natural products and test dyes for acids or bases as teams develop a prototype “paint” that is eventually applied to help with a wall redesign at a local children’s hospital. Students learn about how dyes are extracted from organic material and use the engineering design process to test dyes using a variety of indicators to achieve the right color for their prototype. Students iterate on their dyes and use ratios and proportions to calculate the amount of dye needed to successfully complete their painting project.
Sled Hockey Design Challenge Middle School Activity
Published on December 19, 2018
Students are tasked with designing a special type of hockey stick for a sled hockey team—a sport designed for individuals with physical disabilities to play ice hockey. Using the engineering design process, students act as material engineers to create durable hockey sticks using a variety of materials. The stick designs will contain different interior structures that can hold up during flexure (or bending) tests. Following flexure testing, the students can use their results to iterate upon their design and create a second stick.
Quicksand Danger: Myth or Reality? High School Activity
Published on December 15, 2018
Students explore the physical science behind the causes of quicksand and become familiar with relationship between concepts such as total stress, pore pressure, and effective stress. Students also relate these concepts to soil liquefaction—a major concern during earthquakes. Students begin the activity by designing a simple device to test the effects of quicksand on materials of different densities and weights. They prototype a support structure that works to prevent a heavy object from sinking into quicksand. At the end of the activity, students reflect on the engineering design process and consider the steps civil engineers take in designing sturdy buildings and other structures.
Visualize Your Heartbeat High School Maker Challenge
Published on November 30, 2018
For this maker challenge, students become biomedical engineers who design, create, and test a medical device that measures a patient’s pulse using a microcontroller, LED, and light sensor. Students use data collected from the device they build to determine how to best visualize the results, so that a doctor can view the patient’s pulse on the computer screen. During the challenge, students learn about basic coding, the capabilities of microcontrollers, how sensors gather data, how the human circulatory system works, and how to plot real data. Finally, students are challenged to make their systems portable so that they create wearable health technology. This is a great project for a high school senior design team project.
Designing and Packaging a Distance-Sensing Product Middle School Activity
Published on November 29, 2018
Students begin by following instructions to connect a Sunfounder Ultrasonic Sensor and an Arduino Microcontroller. Once they have them set up, students calibrate the sensor and practice using it. Students are then given an engineering design problem: to build a product that will use the ultrasonic sensors for a purpose that they all specify. Students will have to work together to design and test their product, and ultimately present it to their classmates.
Ultrasonic Devices at the Speed of Sound! Middle School Lesson
Published on November 29, 2018
This lesson focuses on ultrasound wavelengths and how sound frequencies are used by engineers to help with detection of specific distances to or in materials. Students gain an understanding about how ultrasonic waves are reflected and refracted. Students also see how ultrasound technology is used in medical devices. The activity following this lesson allows students to test their knowledge by using the Sunfounder Ultrasonic sensor and Arduino Mega Microcontroller.
How to Design a Better Smartphone Case High School Activity
Published on November 28, 2018
Engineers create and use new materials, as well as new combinations of existing materials to design innovative new products and technologies—all based upon the chemical and physical properties of given substances. In this activity, students act as materials engineers as they learn about and use chemical and physical properties including tessellated geometric designs and shape to build better smartphone cases. Guided by the steps of the engineering design process, they analyze various materials and substances for their properties, design/test/improve a prototype model, and create a dot plot of their prototype testing results.
Making Sense of Sensors: Visualizing Sensor Data High School Maker Challenge
Published on November 13, 2018
The goal of this maker challenge is to demystify sensors, in particular the ambient light sensor, and to map its readings visually. In today’s world, we make sense of the environment around us by filling it with sensors, and we use output devices to display real-time data in a meaningful way. Take any smartphone as an example. Aside from the embedded camera and microphone, a number of other sensors collect a wide range of data. Depending upon the model, these sensors may collect data on proximity, motion, ambient light, moisture, compass, and touch. Some of these data are directly visualized through an app, while many operate internally and without a user interface, just below the surface of the screen. In order to become more familiar with the technology that we use (and often take for granted) on a daily basis, your challenge is to assemble a light sensor circuit, observe its readings using the Arduino Serial Monitor, and then create your own unique visualization by interfacing with the Processing software. Students learn how to use calibration and smoothing to capture a better picture of the data. Afterwards, they share their visualizations with the entire class. The time required for this challenge depends on students’ prior knowledge of Arduino and Processing software. Background resources for beginners help students get up to speed on microcontroller hardware and offer additional challenges for intermediate and advanced users.
Swiss Alps Emergency Sled Design Elementary School Activity
Published on November 13, 2018
Students act as engineers to solve a hypothetical problem that has occurred in the Swiss Alps due to a seismic event. In research groups, students follow the steps of the engineering design process as teams compete to design and create small-size model sleds that can transport materials to people in distress who are living in the affected town. The sleds need to be able to carry various resources that the citizens need for survival as well as meet other design requirements. Students test their designs and make redesigns to improve their prototypes in order to achieve final working designs. Once the designs and final testing are complete, students create final technical reports.
Simple Machines and the Rube Goldberg Challenge High School Maker Challenge
Published on October 30, 2018
Students research simple machines and other mechanisms as they learn about and make Rube Goldberg machines. Working in teams, students design and build their own Rube Goldberg devices with 10 separate steps, including at least six simple machines. In addition to the use of readily available classroom craft supplies, 3D printers may be used (if available) to design and print one or more device mechanisms. Students love this open-ended, team-building project with great potential for creativity and humor.
Dyeing to Design High School Activity
Published on October 18, 2018
Students experiment with various ways to naturally dye materials using sources found in nature—roots, leaves, seeds, spices, etc.—as well as the method of extracting dyes. Then they analyze various materials using statistical methods and tackle an engineering design challenge—to find dyes that best suit the needs of a startup sustainable clothing company.
Nanotechnology Scavenger Hunt! High School Activity
Published on October 11, 2018
Through a scavenger hunt, students are introduced to the world of nanotechnology. In the form of a competition, groups race to locate symbols that correlate to an answer to a general nanotechnology question. Each team receives paper slips with questions; the remaining questions are hidden behind QR codes. Groups need to answer eight total questions in the correct order. Because this is an intro to nanotechnology and its associated engineering, students need to use problem-solving skills in order to identify the correct answers. After the initial scavenger hunt, a brief class discussion explores advances in nanotechnology. Next, students work in teams to research different areas of nanotechnology as they create their own scavenger hunt games.
Topographic Maps and Ratios: A Study of Denali Middle School Activity
Published on October 6, 2018
Students overlay USGS topographic maps into Google Earth’s satellite imagery. By analyzing Denali, a mountain in Alaska, they discover how to use map scales as ratios to navigate maps, and use rates to make sense of contour lines and elevation changes in an integrated GIS software program. Students also problem solve to find potential pathways up a mountain by calculating gradients.