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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.