Make and Control a Servo Arm with Your Computer High School Maker Challenge
Published on February 28, 2018
Computer-controlled servos enable industrial robots to manufacture everything from vehicles to smartphones. For this maker challenge, students control a simple servo arm by sending commands with their computers to Arduinos using the serial communication protocol. This exercise walks students through the (sometimes) unintuitive nuances of this protocol, so by the end they can directly control the servo position with the computer. Once students master the serial protocol, they are ready to build some suggested interactive projects using the computer or “cut the cord” and get started with wireless Bluetooth or XBee communication.
A Closer Look at Natural Disasters Using GIS High School Activity
Published on February 27, 2018
As if they are environmental engineers, student pairs are challenged to use Google Earth Pro (free) GIS software to view and examine past data on hurricanes and tornados in order to (hypothetically) advise their state government on how to proceed with its next-year budget—to answer the question: should we reduce funding for natural disaster relief? To do this, students learn about maps, geographic information systems (GIS) and the global positioning system (GPS), and how they are used to deepen the way maps are used to examine and analyze data. Then they put their knowledge to work by using the GIS software to explore historical severe storm (tornado, hurricane) data in depth. Student pairs confer with other teams, conduct Internet research on specific storms and conclude by presenting their recommendations to the class. Students gain practice and perspective on making evidence-based decisions. A slide presentation as well as a student worksheet with instructions and questions are provided.
Speedy & Compact: The Perfect Vehicle for Your Future Elementary School Activity
Published on February 20, 2018
As if they are engineers, students are tasked to design solar-powered model vehicles that are speedy and compact in order to make recommendations to a local car sales company. Teams familiarize themselves with the materials by building solar-panel model car prototypes, following kit instructions, which they test for speed. After making design improvements, they test again. Then they take measurements and calculate the volume of each team’s vehicle. They rank all teams’ vehicles by speed and by size. After data analyses, reflection and team discussion, students write recommendations to the car company about the vehicle they think is best for consumers. Youngsters experience key portions of the engineering design process and learn the importance of testing and collaborating in order to make better products. Pre/post-quizzes and numerous worksheets and handouts are provided.
Making Sound-Reactive Clothing High School Activity
Published on February 13, 2018
Students apply sound-activated light-up EL wire to create personalized light-up clothing outfits. During the project, students become familiar with the components, code and logic to complete circuits and employ their imaginations to real-world applications of technology. Acting as if they are engineers, students are challenged to incorporate electroluminescent wire to regular clothing to make attention-getting safety clothing for joggers and cyclists. Luminescent EL wire stays cool, making it ideal to sew into wearable projects. They use the SparkFun sound detector and the EL sequencer circuit board to flash the EL wire to the rhythm of ambient sound, such as music, clapping, talking—or roadway traffic sounds! The combination of sensors, microcontrollers and EL wire enables a wide range of feedback and control options.
Build & Play Binary Digital Trumpets High School Activity
Published on January 23, 2018
Students wire up their own digital trumpets using a MaKey MaKey. They learn the basics of wiring a breadboard and use the digital trumpets to count in the binary number system. Teams are challenged to play songs using the binary system and their trumpets, and then present them in a class concert.
Solar Power to the Rescue! Middle School Lesson
Published on January 12, 2018
Students learn how the innovative engineering of photovoltaics enables us to transform the sun’s energy into usable power—electricity—through the use of photovoltaic cells. Watching a short video clip from “The Martian” movie shows the importance of photovoltaics in powering space exploration at extreme distances from the Earth. Then students learn that the photovoltaic technologies designed to excel in the harsh environment of space have the potential to be just as beneficial on Earth—providing electricity-generating systems based on renewable energy sources is important for our electricity-gobbling society. Two student journaling sheets assist with vocabulary and concepts.
E.T. Phone Home: Fact or Fiction? Middle School Activity
Published on January 12, 2018
A favorite movie, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” provides the backdrop scenario for students to discover how harnessing the sun’s energy provides unlimited power for many purposes, including the operation of thousands of satellites in orbit today and communication over long distances. In the movie, E.T., an alien life form, is stranded on Earth and befriends Elliott, the little boy who rescues him. As E.T. becomes gravely ill, Elliott realizes that E.T. needs to return home in order to survive. To arrange for transport, E.T. must “phone home.” Teams engage in an interactive quest to answer the question: E.T. phone home—fact or fiction? They must discover four clues in order to unlock four padlocks on a box that contains the answer. This requires them to watch a one-minute online video, complete a crossword puzzle, scan three QR codes for articles to read, and put together a cut-apart puzzle with an invisible ink clue. They watch short online movie excerpt videos to kick off and wrap up the activity.
Oil: Clean It Up! Middle School Maker Challenge
Published on January 3, 2018
Student teams create, test and improve oil spill cleanup kits, designing them to be inexpensive and accessible for homeowners to use or for big companies to give to individual workers to aid in personal home, community or corporate environmental oil cleanup. After deciding on a target user and scenario, teams conduct research and draw from an assortment of ordinary materials and supplies made available by the teacher. As a concluding gallery walk, each group presents its final prototype and summary poster to the rest of the class.
Humidity? Build a Psychrometer! High School Activity
Published on November 29, 2017
Using thermometers, cotton balls, string and water, students make simple psychrometers—a tool that measures humidity. They learn the difference between relative humidity (the ratio of water vapor content to water vapor carrying capacity) and dew point (the temperature at which dew forms). Teams collect data using their homemade psychrometers and then calculate relative humidity inside and outside, comparing their results to an off-the-shelf psychrometer (if available). A lab worksheet is provided for data collection and calculation. As a real-world connection, students learn that humidity and air density is taken into consideration by engineers for many design projects. To conclude, they answer and discuss analysis and application questions.
Make a Shoebox Arcade Controller Middle School Activity
Published on November 9, 2017
What is inside a video game controller? Students learn about simple circuits and switches as they build arcade controllers using a cardboard box and a MaKey MaKey—an electronic tool and toy that enables users to connect everyday objects to computer programs. Each group uses a joystick and two big push button arcade buttons to make the controller. They follow provided schematics to wire, test and use their controllers—exploring the functionality of the controllers by playing simple computer games like Tetris and Pac-Man. Many instructional photos, a cutting diagram and a wiring schematic are included.
Monitoring Noise Levels with a Smart Device High School Activity
Published on November 3, 2017
Students learn the physical properties of sound, how it travels and how noise impacts human health—including the quality of student learning. They learn different techniques that engineers use in industry to monitor noise level exposure and then put their knowledge to work by using a smart phone noise meter app to measure the noise level at an area of interest, such as busy roadways near the school. They devise an experimental procedure to measure sound levels in their classroom, at the source of loud noise (such as a busy road or construction site), and in between. Teams collect data using smart phones/tablets, microphones and noise apps. They calculate wave properties, including frequency, wavelength and amplitude. A PowerPoint® presentation, three worksheets and a quiz are provided.
Applications of Systems of Equations: An Electronic Circuit High School Activity
Published on November 1, 2017
Does the real-world application of science depend on mathematics? In this activity, students answer this question as they experience a real-world application of systems of equations. Given a system of linear equations that mathematically models a specific circuit—students start by solving a system of three equations for the currents. After becoming familiar with the parts of a breadboard, groups use a breadboard, resistors and jumper wires to each build the same (physical) electric circuit from the provided circuit diagram. Then they use voltmeters to measure the current flow across each resistor and calculate the current using Ohm’s law. They compare the mathematically derived current values to the measured values, and calculate the percentage difference of their results. This leads students to conclude that real-world applications of science do indeed depend on mathematics! Students make posters to communicate their results and conclusions. A pre/post-activity quiz and student worksheet are provided. Adjustable for math- or science-focused classrooms.
Exploring Nondestructive Evaluation Methods High School Lesson
Published on November 1, 2017
Through this lesson and its series of hands-on mini-activities, students answer the question: How can we investigate and measure the inside of an object or its structure if we cannot take it apart? Unlike the destructive nuclear weapon test (!), nondestructive evaluation (NDE) methods are able to accomplish this. After an introductory slide presentation, small groups rotate through five mini-activity stations: 1) applying Maxwell’s equations, 2) generating currents, 3) creating magnetic fields, 4) solving a system of equations, and 5) understanding why the finite element method (FEM) is important. Through the short experiments, students become familiar with the science and physics being used and make the mathematical connections. They explore components of NDE and see how engineers find unseen flaws and cracks in materials that make aircraft. A pre/post quiz, slide presentation and worksheet are included.
Make a Sticky-Note Fan with Arduino High School Maker Challenge
Published on October 27, 2017
Students control small electric motors with Arduino microcontrollers to make simple sticky-note spinning fans and then explore other variations of basic motor systems. Through this exercise, students create circuits that include transistors acting as switches. They alter and experiment with given basic motor code, learning about the Arduino analogWrite command and pulse width modulation (PWM). Students learn the motor system nuances that enable them to create their own motor-controlled projects. They are challenged to make their motor systems respond to temperature or light, to control speed with knob or soft potentiometers, and/or make their motors go in reverse (using a motor driver shield or an H-bridge). Electric motors are used extensively in industrial and consumer products and the fundamental principles that students learn can be applied to motors of all shapes and sizes.
Create and Control a Popsicle Stick Finger Robot High School Maker Challenge
Published on October 20, 2017
Students are introduced to servos and the flex sensor as they create simple, one-jointed, finger robots controlled by Arduino. Servos are motors with feedback and are extensively used in industrial and consumer applications—from large industrial car-manufacturing robots that use servos to hold heavy metal and precisely weld components together, to prosthetic hands that rely on servos to provide fine motor control. Students use Arduino microcontrollers and flex sensors to read finger flexes, which they process to send angle information to the servos. Students create working circuits; use the constrain, map and smoothing commands; learn what is meant by library and abstraction in a coding context; and may even combine team finger designs to create a complete prosthetic hand of bendable fingers.