Recently Added

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.

LilyTiny Plush Monsters Are Alive! Activity

Published on March 3, 2017

Students learn how to set up pre-programmed microcontroller units like the Arduino LilyPad and use them to enhance a product’s functionality and personality. They do this by making plush toys in monster shapes (template provided) with microcontrollers and LEDs sewn into the felt fabric with conductive thread to make circuits. At activity end, each student will have created his or her own plush toy, complete with LEDs that illuminate in a specified sequence: random twinkle, blink, heartbeat and/or breathing.

Using Color to Enhance LED Lighting Quality Activity

Published on March 1, 2017

Students take what they know about materials, optical properties and electrons to the next level—to see how semiconductors can be used to augment light. First, they learn how light-emitting diodes (LEDs) work, which helps them to think critically about a real-world problem they are asked to solve later in the activity as if they are practicing engineers. The challenge: To design an improved LED headlight that lights the roadway without distracting oncoming drivers and passengers with the harsh, bright white light seen in many cars today. Students research the problem via an online video, article and interactive simulation, learning all about quantum dots. Then teams use small LED flashlights and pieces of red, blue, yellow and green acetate to independently experiment to come up with a model that has the potential to improve the measured visual quality of bright white LED light—their solutions to the headlight challenge.

Geometry Solutions: Design and Play Mini-Golf Activity

Published on March 1, 2017

Students learn about geometric relationships by solving real mini putt examples on paper and then using putters and golf balls to experiment with the teacher’s pre-made mini put hole(s) framed by 2 x 4s, comparing their calculated (theoretical) results to real-world results. To “solve the holes,” they find the reflections of angles and then solve for those angles. They do this for 1-, 2- and 3-banked hole-in-one shots. Next, students apply their newly learned skills to design, solve and build their own mini putt holes, also made of 2 x 4s and steel corners.

Elementary School Engineering Design Field Day Unit

Published on February 17, 2017

This unit provides the framework for conducting an “engineering design field day” that combines 10 hands-on engineering activities into a culminating school (or multi-school) competition. The activities are a mix of design and problem-solving projects inspired by real-world engineering challenges: kite making, sail cars, tall towers, strong towers, egg drop, dry pasta derby cars, strong bridges, ball and tools obstacle course, and water bottle rockets. The assortment of events engage children who have varied interests and cover a range of disciplines such as aerospace, mechanical and civil engineering. An optional math test—for each of grades 1-6—is provided as an alternative activity to incorporate into the field day event. Of course, the 10 activities in this unit also are suitable to conduct as standalone activities that are unaffiliated with a big event.

Redesigning a Classroom for the Visually Impaired Activity

Published on February 17, 2017

Students practice human-centered design by imagining, designing and prototyping a product to improve classroom accessibility for the visually impaired. To begin, they wear low-vision simulation goggles (or blindfolds) and walk with canes to navigate through a classroom in order to experience what it feels like to be visually impaired. Student teams follow the steps of the engineering design process to formulate their ideas, draw them by hand and using free, online Tinkercad software, and then 3D-print (or construct with foam core board and hot glue) a 1:20-scale model of the classroom that includes the product idea and selected furniture items. Teams use a morphological chart and an evaluation matrix to quantitatively compare and evaluate possible design solutions, narrowing their ideas into one final solution to pursue. To conclude, teams make posters that summarize their projects.

Creating Electronic Textile Art Pins Activity

Published on February 9, 2017

Students’ background understanding of electricity and circuit-building is reinforced as they create wearable, light-up e-textile pins. They also tap their creative and artistic abilities as they plan and produce attractive end product “wearables.” Using fabric, LED lights, conductive thread (made of stainless steel) and small battery packs, students design and fabricate their own unique light-up pins. This involves putting together the circuitry so the sewn-in LEDs light up. Connecting electronics with stitching instead of soldering gives students a unique and tangible understanding of how electrical circuits operate.

Making E-Textile Masks Activity

Published on February 3, 2017

Students learn about engineering applications in artistic venues by designing and creating eye masks that each contain three LEDs. They explore parallel circuits with their LEDs, and sew with conductive thread to create light-up displays on their masks, gaining hands-on experience in using engineering technologies as well as custom product design and assembly.

SIK Keyboard Instrument Activity

Published on January 30, 2017

Students work as if they are electrical engineers to program a keyboard to play different audible tones depending on where a sensor is pressed. They construct the keyboard from a soft potentiometer, an Arduino capable board, and a small speaker. The soft potentiometer “keyboard” responds to the pressure of touch on its eight “keys” (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) and feeds an input signal to the Arduino-capable board. Each group programs a board to take the input and send an output signal to the speaker to produce a tone that is dependent on the input signal—that is, which “key” is pressed. After the keyboard is working, students play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and (if time allows) modify the code so that different keys or a different number of notes can be played.

T-Shirt Launcher Maker Challenge

Published on January 25, 2017

Students are challenged to find a way to get school t-shirts up into the stands during sporting events. They work with a real client (if possible, such as a cheerleading squad, booster club or band) to determine the requirements and constraints that would make the project a success, including a budget constraint. They think “outside of the box” to come up with lots of ideas. Then they mock-up small-scale model(s) of their best, most feasible ideas for testing, before making full-scale usable devices that they further refine and then demonstrate and deliver to the client.

Adding Helpful Carrier Devices to Crutches Maker Challenge

Published on January 25, 2017

People using crutches have their hands occupied, which makes it difficult to carry books and other items they want to have handy. Student teams are challenged to design assistive devices that modify crutches to help people carry things such as books and school supplies. Given a list of constraints, including a device weight limit and minimum load capacity, groups brainstorm ideas and then make detailed plans for their best solutions. They create prototypes and then test for functionality by loading them and using them, making improvements with each iteration. At a concluding design expo, teams present their concepts and demonstrate their final prototype devices.

Snazzy Sneakers Maker Challenge

Published on January 24, 2017

For this maker challenge, students decide on specific design requirements (such as good traction or deep cushioning), sketch their plans, and then use a variety of materials to build prototype shoes that meet the design criteria. The bottoms (soles) of sneakers provide support, cushioning, flexibility and traction as makes sense for the sport or activity. In addition, some sneakers are intended to be fashionable with cool colors, materials or added height. Sneakers are engineered products that use a mix of materials to create highly functional, useful shoes.

RGB Color Mixing Maker Challenge

Published on January 24, 2017

Students write Arduino code and use a “digital sandbox” to create new colors out of the three programming primary colors: green, red and blue. They develop their own functions, use them to make disco light shows, and vary the pattern and colors of their shows. The digital sandbox is a hardware and software learning platform powered by a microcontroller that can interact with real-world inputs like light, while at the same time controlling LEDs and other outputs.

Water Bottle Rockets Activity

Published on January 14, 2017

What makes rockets fly straight? What makes rockets fly far? Why use water to make the rocket fly? Students are challenged to design and build rockets from two-liter plastic soda bottles that travel as far and straight as possible or stay aloft as long as possible. Guided by the steps of the engineering design process, students first watch a video that shows rocket launch failures and then participate in three teacher-led mini-activities with demos to explore key rocket design concepts: center of drag, center of mass, and momentum and impulse. Then the class tests four combinations of propellants (air, water) and center of mass (weight added fore or aft) to see how these variables affect rocket distance and hang time. From what they learn, student pairs create their own rockets from plastic bottles with cardboard fins and their choices of propellant and center of mass placement, which they test and refine before a culminating engineering field day competition. Teams design for maximum distance or hang time; adding a parachute is optional. Students learn that engineering failures during design and testing are just steps along the way to success.

Wear’s the Technology? Activity

Published on December 29, 2016

Students apply their knowledge of scale and geometry to design wearables that would help people in their daily lives, perhaps for medical reasons or convenience. Like engineers, student teams follow the steps of the design process, to research the wearable technology field (watching online videos and conducting online research), brainstorm a need that supports some aspect of human life, imagine their own unique designs, and then sketch prototypes (using Paint®). They compare the drawn prototype size to its intended real-life, manufactured size, determining estimated length and width dimensions, determining the scale factor, and the resulting difference in areas. After considering real-world safety concerns relevant to wearables (news article) and getting preliminary user feedback (peer critique), they adjust their drawn designs for improvement. To conclude, they recap their work in short class presentations.

Scaling, Go Figure! Lesson

Published on December 29, 2016

Students learn how different characteristics of shapes—side lengths, perimeter and area—change when the shapes are scaled, either enlarged or reduced. Student pairs conduct a “scaling investigation” to measure and calculate shape dimensions (rectangle, quarter circle, triangle; lengths, perimeters, areas) from a bedroom floorplan provided at three scales. They analyze their data to notice the mathematical relationships that hold true during the scaling process. They see how this can be useful in real-world situations like when engineers design wearable or implantable biosensors. This prepares students for the associated activity in which they use this knowledge to help them reduce or enlarge their drawings as part of the process of designing their own wearables products. Pre/post-activity quizzes, a worksheet and wrap-up concepts handout are provided.

Geometry Tools: Angles & Reflections Lesson

Published on December 27, 2016

Students learn about common geometry tools and then learn to use protractors (and Miras, if available) to create and measure angles and reflections. The lesson begins with a recap of the history and modern-day use of protractors, compasses and mirrors. After seeing some class practice problems and completing a set of worksheet-prompted problems, students share their methods and work. Through the lesson, students gain an awareness of the pervasive use of angles, and these tools, for design purposes related to engineering and everyday uses. This lesson prepares students to conduct the associated activity in which they “solve the holes” for hole-in-one multiple-banked angle solutions, make their own one-hole mini-golf courses with their own geometry-based problems and solutions, and then compare their “on paper” solutions to real-world results.

Polygons and Popsicle Trusses Activity

Published on December 22, 2016

Students learn about the role engineers play in designing and building truss structures. Simulating a real-world civil engineering challenge, student teams are tasked to create strong and unique truss structures for a local bridge. They design to address project constraints, including the requirement to incorporate three different polygon shapes, and follow the steps of the engineering design process. They use hot glue and Popsicle sticks to create their small-size bridge prototypes. After compressive load tests, they evaluate their results and redesign for improvement. They collect, graph and analyze before/after measurements of interior angles to investigate shape deformation. A PowerPoint® presentation, design worksheet and data collection sheet are provided. This activity is the final step in a series on polygons and trusses.

Triangles Everywhere: Sum of Angles in Polygons Activity

Published on December 22, 2016

Students learn about regular polygons and the common characteristics of regular polygons. They relate their mathematical knowledge of these shapes to the presence of these shapes in the human-made structures around us, especially trusses. Through a guided worksheet and teamwork, students explore the idea of dividing regular polygons into triangles, calculating the sums of angles in polygons using triangles, and identifying angles in shapes using protractors. They derive equations 1) for the sum of interior angles in a regular polygon, and 2) to find the measure of each angle in a regular n-gon. This activity extends students’ knowledge to engineering design and truss construction. This activity is the middle step in a series on polygons and trusses, and prepares students for the Polygon and Popsicle Trusses associated activity.

Polygons, Angles and Trusses, Oh My! Lesson

Published on December 22, 2016

Students take a close look at truss structures, the geometric shapes that compose them, and the many variations seen in bridge designs in use every day. Through a guided worksheet, students draw assorted 2D and 3D polygon shapes and think through their forms and interior angles (mental “testing”) before and after load conditions are applied. They see how engineers add structural members to polygon shapes to support them under compression and tension, and how triangles provide the strongest elemental shape. A PowerPoint® presentation is provided. This lesson prepares students for two associated activities that continue the series on polygons and trusses.

Let’s Build an Aqueduct! Activity

Published on December 22, 2016

Students explore in detail how the Romans built aqueducts using arches—and the geometry involved in doing so. Building on what they learned in the associated lesson about how innovative Roman arches enabled the creation of magnificent structures such as aqueducts, students use trigonometry to complete worksheet problem calculations to determine semicircular arch construction details using trapezoidal-shaped and cube-shaped blocks. Then student groups use hot glue and half-inch wooden cube blocks to build model aqueducts, doing all the calculations to design and build the arches necessary to support a water-carrying channel over a three-foot span. They calculate the slope of the small-sized aqueduct based on what was typical for Roman aqueducts at the time, aiming to construct the ideal slope over a specified distance in order to achieve a water flow that is not spilling over or stagnant. They test their model aqueducts with water and then reflect on their performance.

History and Geometry of Roman Aqueducts Lesson

Published on December 22, 2016

Students see that geometric shapes can be found in all sorts of structures as they explore the history of the Roman Empire with a focus on how engineers 2000 years ago laid the groundwork for many structures seen today. Through a short online video, brief lecture material and their own online research directed by worksheet questions, students discover how the Romans invented a structure known today as the Roman arch that enabled them to build architecture never before seen by humankind, including the amazing aqueducts. Students calculate the slope and its total drop and angle over its entire distance for an example aqueduct. Completing this lesson prepares students for the associated activity in which teams build and test model aqueducts that meet specific constraints. This lesson serves as an introduction to many other geometry—and engineering-related lessons—including statics and trusses, scale modeling, and trigonometry.

Scale Model Project Activity

Published on December 21, 2016

Students build scale models of objects of their choice. In class they measure the original object and pick a scale, deciding either to scale it up or scale it down. Then they create the models at home. Students give two presentations along the way, one after their calculations are done, and another after the models are completed. They learn how engineers use scale models in their designs of structures, products and systems. Two student worksheets as well as rubrics for project and presentation expectations and grading are provided.

Build the Biggest Box Activity

Published on December 21, 2016

Student pairs are given 10 minutes to create the biggest box possible using one piece of construction paper. Teams use only scissors and tape to each construct a box and determine how much puffed rice it can hold. Then, to meet the challenge, they improve their designs to create bigger boxes. They plot the class data, comparing measured to calculated volumes for each box, seeing the mathematical relationship. They discuss how the concepts of volume and design iteration are important for engineers. Making 3-D shapes also supports the development of spatial visualization skills. This activity and its associated lesson and activity all employ volume and geometry to cultivate seeing patterns and understanding scale models, practices used in engineering design to analyze the effectiveness of proposed design solutions.

Discovering Relationships between Side Length and Area Lesson

Published on December 21, 2016

Through this lesson and its two associated activities, students are introduced to the use of geometry in engineering design, and conclude by making scale models of objects of their choice. The practice of developing scale models is often used in engineering design to analyze the effectiveness of proposed design solutions. In this lesson, students complete fencing (square) and fire pit (circle) word problems on two worksheets—which involves side and radius dimensions, perimeters, circumferences and areas—guiding them to discover the relationships between the side length of a square and its area, and the radius of a circle and its area. They also think of real-world engineering applications of the geometry concepts.

All about Linear Programming Lesson

Published on December 15, 2016

Students learn about linear programming (also called linear optimization) to solve engineering design problems. As they work through a word problem as a class, they learn about the ideas of constraints, feasibility and optimization related to graphing linear equalities. Then they apply this information to solve two practice engineering design problems related to optimizing materials and cost by graphing inequalities, determining coordinates and equations from their graphs, and solving their equations. It is suggested that students conduct the associated activity, Optimizing Pencils in a Tray, before this lesson, although either order is acceptable.

Optimizing Pencils in a Tray Activity

Published on December 15, 2016

Student groups work with manipulatives—pencils and trays—to maximize various quantities of a system. They work through three linear optimization problems, each with different constraints. After arriving at a solution, they construct mathematical arguments for why their solutions are the best ones before attempting to maximize a different quantity. To conclude, students think of real-world and engineering space optimization examples—a frequently encountered situation in which the limitation is the amount of space available. It is suggested that students conduct this activity before the associated lesson, Linear Programming, although either order is acceptable.