Solar Power to the Rescue! 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? 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! 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! 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Build Your Own Night-Light with Arduino Maker Challenge
Published on October 11, 2017
Whether you want to light up a front step or a bathroom, it helps to have a light come on automatically when darkness falls. For this maker challenge, students create their own night-lights using Arduino microcontrollers, photocells and (supplied) code to sense light levels and turn on/off LEDs as they specify. As they build, test, and control these night-lights, they learn about voltage divider circuits and then experience the fundamental power of microcontrollers—controlling outputs (LEDs) based on sensor (photocell) input readings and if/then/else commands. Then they are challenged to personalize (and complicate) their night-lights—such as by using delays to change the LED blinking rate to reflect the amount of ambient light, or use many LEDs and several if/else statements with ranges to create a light meter. The possibilities are unlimited!
Building Arduino Light Sculptures Maker Challenge
Published on October 9, 2017
Students are challenged to design their own small-sized prototype light sculptures to light up a hypothetical courtyard. To accomplish this, they use Arduino microcontrollers as the “brains” of the projects and control light displays composed of numerous (3+) light-emitting diodes (LEDs). With this challenge, students further their learning of Arduino fundamentals by exploring one important microcontroller capability—the control of external circuits. The Arduino microcontroller is a powerful yet easy-to-learn platform for learning computer programing and electronics. LEDs provide immediate visual success/failure feedback, and the unlimited variety of possible results are dazzling!
Introduction to Arduino: Getting Connected and Blinking LEDs Maker Challenge
Published on October 5, 2017
Microcontrollers are the brains of the electronic world, but in order to play with one, you must first get it connected! For this maker challenge, students learn how to connect their Arduino microcontroller circuit boards to computers. First, students are walked through the connection process, helped to troubleshoot common pitfalls, and write their first Arduino programs (setup and loop functions, semicolons, camel case, pin 13 LED). Then they are given the open-ended challenge to create their own blinking LED code—such as writing Morse code messages and mimicking the rhythm of a heartbeat. This practice helps students become comfortable with the fundamental commands before progressing to more difficult programs.
Published on September 23, 2017
Students gain first-hand experience with the steps of the scientific method as well as the overarching engineering design process as they conduct lab research with the aim to create a bioplastic with certain properties. Students learn about the light mechanism that causes ultraviolet bead color change, observe the effect of different light waves on a phosphorescence powder, and see the connection between florescence, phosphorescence and wavelength. Students compose hypotheses and determine experimental procedure details, as teams engineer variations on a bioplastic solid embedded with phosphorescence powder. The objective is to make a structurally sound bioplastic without reducing its glowing properties from the powder embedded within its matrix. Groups conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses of their engineered plastics, then recap and communicate their experiment conclusions in the form of a poster, slides and verbal presentation. As an extension, teams make their own testing apparatuses. As a further extension, they combine all the group results to determine which bioplastic matrix best achieves the desired properties and then “manufacture” the optimum bioplastic into glowing toy figurine end products! Many handouts, instructions, photos and rubrics are provided.
Published on September 9, 2017
Students are introduced to two real-life problems that can be solved by using the engineering design process. For the first one, they follow along with a slide presentation that describes how a group of students built an organizer to help organize their teacher’s desk. The presentation introduces students to the key steps in the engineering design process. Next, in discussion groups, they read through a scenario in which middle school student Marisol struggles to keep her locker organized. They read the case study together, stopping and discussing at key points to share ideas and consider Marisol’s progress as she moves through the engineering design cycle to design and implement a solution. As an optional hands-on activity extension, students construct their own locker organizer using scrap materials. This introduction to the engineering design process sets up students to be able to conduct their own real-world design projects. A case study handout, group leader discussion sheet and slide presentation are provided.
Published on August 31, 2017
Students apply high school-level differential calculus and physics to the design of two-dimensional roller coasters in which the friction force is considered, as explained in the associated lesson. In a challenge the mirrors real-world engineering, the designed roller coaster paths must be made from at least five differentiable functions that are put together such that the resulting piecewise curving path is differentiable at all points. Once designed mathematically, teams build and test small-sized prototype models of the exact designs using foam pipe wrap insulation as the roller coaster track channel with marbles as the ride carts. Project constraints students must consider include: initial cart velocity of zero (at the highest point), and final path end velocity of zero. The design must be efficient enough that the initial potential energy of the body is sufficient for it to complete the entire path. To achieve an efficient design, students use a formula obtained in the associated lesson—one that gives the velocity of a spherical body rolling on a curved path when friction is present. This equation considers the body’s energy lost due to friction, and is used to estimate the maximum height the marble may reach after rolling from a hill. Students use Excel® to make these calculations and graph the designed path and velocities. To conclude, teams summarize their procedures, designs, results, and theory-vs.-reality experiences in a slide or video presentation to their classmates, including their small-scale physical models. This activity and its associated lesson are designed for AP Calculus. A pre-quiz, PowerPoint® presentation, spreadsheet calculations/graphs (with and without calculus), and student instructions/grading rubric are provided.
A Tale of Friction Lesson
Published on August 30, 2017
Roller coasters projects are frequently used in middle and high school physics classes to illustrate the principle of conservation of mechanical energy. Potential energy transforms to kinetic energy and vice versa, with gravity being the driving force during the entire process. Even though friction force is mentioned, it is rarely considered in the velocity calculations along the coasters’ paths. In this high school lesson, the friction force is considered in the process. Using basic calculus and the work-energy theorem for non-conservative forces, the friction along a curved path is quantified, and the cart’s velocity along this path is predicted. This activity and its associated lesson are designed for AP Calculus. Practice problems/answers, a PowerPoint® presentation and student notes are provided. The starting point in this analysis is the solution found using the work-energy theorem to the problem of a spherical body rolling on an incline when friction is present. This approach is extended to a spherical body rolling on a curved path. Assuming that a curved path can be approximated by a sequence of many very short inclines, the problem is approached as a body rolling on this sequence of inclines, solving each with the work-energy theorem. Defining the curved path as a differentiable function, the slope of each incline is obtained through the function derivative. Formulas for the coefficient of static friction, friction force and velocity are found and through them, values of these properties along the curved path can be determined. Students use these equations in the associated activity to design and construct simple roller coasters that consider the friction present, using a flexible material like foam pipe insulation as the coaster’s path and a marble as the cart.
Can You Hear Me Now? Activity
Published on August 2, 2017
Students apply their knowledge of linear regression and design to solve a real-world challenge to create a better packing solution for shipping cell phones. They use different materials, such as cardboard, fabric, plastic, and rubber bands to create new “composite material” packaging containers. Teams each create four prototypes made of the same materials and constructed in the same way, with the only difference being their weights, so each one is fabricated with a different amount of material. They test the three heavier prototype packages by dropping them from different heights to see how well they protect a piece of glass inside (similar in size to iPhone 6). Then students use linear regression to predict from what height they can drop the fourth/final prototype of known mass without the “phone” breaking. Success is not breaking the glass but not underestimating the height by too much either, which means using math to accurately predict the optimum drop height.
Published on July 19, 2017
Students build solar USB chargers using solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and other components.
Out-of-the Box: A Furniture Design + Engineering Challenge Maker Challenge
Published on July 14, 2017
Student teams are challenged to design and build architecturally inspired cardboard furniture, guided by the steps of the engineering design process. They cultivate their industrial engineering and design skills to design furnishings that meet functional, aesthetic and financial requirements. Given constraints that include limited building materials and tools, groups research architectural styles and period furnishings. The teams brainstorm ideas, make small-scale quick prototypes, then make detailed plans and create full-scale prototypes of their best solutions. The full-size prototypes are evaluated by peer critique for aesthetic alignment to the targeted architectural style and tested for functionality. After final refinements, teams present their concepts and display their final prototype furnishings in an exhibition.
Published on July 3, 2017
Using ordinary household materials, student “biomedical engineering” teams design prototype models that demonstrate semipermeability under the hypothetical scenario that they are creating a teaching tool for medical students. Working within material constraints, each model consists of two layers of a medium separated by material acting as the membrane. The competing groups must each demonstrate how water (or another substance) passes through the first layer of the medium, through the membrane, and into the second layer of the medium. After a few test/evaluate/redesign cycles, teams present their best prototypes to the rest of the class. Then student teams collaborate as a class to create one optimal design that reflects what they learned from the group design successes and failures. A pre/post-quiz, worksheet and rubric are provided.
Published on June 28, 2017
Working as if they are engineers aiming to analyze and then improve data collection devices for precision agriculture, students determine how accurate temperature sensors are by comparing them to each other. Teams record soil temperature data during a class period while making changes to the samples to mimic real-world crop conditions—such as the addition of water and heat and the removal of the heat. Groups analyze their collected data by finding the mean, median, mode, and standard deviation. Then, the class combines all the team data points in order to compare data collected from numerous devices and analyze the accuracy of their recording devices by finding the standard deviation of temperature readings at each minute. By averaging the standard deviations of each minute’s temperature reading, students determine the accuracy of their temperature sensors. Students present their findings and conclusions, including making recommendations for temperature sensor improvements.
Published on June 23, 2017
Students investigate the bone structure of a turkey femur and then create their own prototype versions as if they are biomedical engineers designing bone transplants for a bird. The challenge is to mimic the size, shape, structure, mass and density of the real bone. Students begin by watching a TED Talk about printing a human kidney and reading a news article about 3D printing a replacement bone for an eagle. Then teams gather data—using calipers to get the exact turkey femur measurements—and determine the bone’s mass and density. They make to-scale sketches of the bone and then use modeling clay, plastic drinking straws and pipe cleaners to create 3D prototypes of the bone. Next, groups each cut and measure a turkey femur cross-section, which they draw in CAD software and then print on a 3D printer. Students reflect on the design/build process and the challenges encountered when making realistic bone replacements. A pre/post-quiz, worksheet and rubric are included. If no 3D printer, shorten the activity by just making the hand-generated replicate bones.
Published on June 20, 2017
Students operate mock 3D bioprinters in order to print tissue constructs of bone, muscle and skin for a fictitious trauma patient, Bill. The model bioprinters are made from ordinary materials— cardboard, dowels, wood, spools, duct tape, zip ties and glue (constructed by the teacher or the students)—and use squeeze bags of icing to lay down tissue layers. Student groups apply what they learned about biological tissue composition and tissue engineering in the associated lesson to design and fabricate model replacement tissues. They tangibly learn about the technical aspects and challenges of 3D bioprinting technology, as well as great detail about the complex cellular composition of tissues. At activity end, teams present their prototype designs to the class.
Published on June 20, 2017
Students learn about the current applications and limitations of 3D bioprinting, as well as its amazing future potential. This lesson, and its fun associated activity, provides a unique way to review and explore concepts such as differing cell functions, multicellular organism complexity, and engineering design steps. As introduced through a PowerPoint® presentation, students learn about three different types of bioprinters, with a focus on the extrusion model. Then they learn the basics of tissue engineering and the steps to design printed tissues. This background information prepares students to conduct the associated activity in which they use mock-3D bioprinters composed of a desktop setup that uses bags of icing to “bioprint” replacement skin, bone and muscle for a fictitious trauma patient, Bill. A pre/post-quiz is also provided.
Creative Crash Test Cars Maker Challenge
Published on June 14, 2017
How does mass affect momentum in a head-on collision? Students explore this question and experience the open-ended engineering design process as if they are the next-generation engineers working on the next big safety feature for passenger vehicles. They are challenged to design or improve an existing passenger compartment design/feature so that it better withstands front-end collisions, protecting riders from injury and resulting in minimal vehicle structural damage. With a raw egg as the test passenger, teams use teacher-provided building materials to add their own safety features onto either a small-size wooden car kit or their own model cars created from scratch. They run the prototypes down ramps into walls, collecting distance and time data, slo-mo video of their crash tests, and damage observations. They make calculations and look for relationships between car mass, speed, momentum and the amount of crash damage. A guiding worksheet and pre/post-quiz are included.
Published on June 9, 2017
Given a hypothetical civil engineering scenario, student pairs are tasked to apply their knowledge of the rock cycle, rock types, rock weathering and the engineering design process to model a potential method to create a sandy beach from three rocky island shorelines. For their abrasion weathering models, they use wide-mouth lidded jars and three types of candies that serve as the testing “rocks.” They simulate both low- and high-energy weathering environments. After completing the simple weathering techniques and analyzing their observations of the results, they conclude by recommending to the island developer which rocky shoreline would be the easiest, simplest, and most cost-effective from which to create a sandy beach. A worksheet and pre/post quiz are provided.
Mmm Cupcakes: What’s Their Impact? Activity
Published on June 7, 2017
Students learn about life-cycle assessment and how engineers use this technique to determine the environmental impact of everyday products and processes. As they examine what’s involved in making and consuming cupcakes, a snack enjoyed by millions of people every year, students learn about the production, use and disposal phases of an object’s life cycle. With the class organized into six teams, students calculate data for each phase of a cupcake’s life cycle—wet ingredients, dry ingredients, baking materials, oven baking, frosting, liner disposal—and calculate energy usage and greenhouse gases emitted from making one cupcake. They use ratios and fractions, and compare options for some of the life-cycle stages, such as different paper wrapper endings (disposal to landfills or composting) in order to make a life-cycle plan with a lower environmental impact. This activity opens students’ eyes to see the energy use in the cradle-to-grave lives of everyday products. Pre/post-quizzes, worksheets, activity cards, Excel® workbook and visual aids are provided.
Cool Puppy! Maker Challenge
Published on June 2, 2017
Students are given the engineering challenge to design and build doghouses that shelter a (toy) puppy from the heat—and to create them within material, size and cost constraints. This requires them to apply what they know (or research) about light energy and how it does (or does not) travel through various materials, as well as how a material’s color affects its light absorption and reflection properties. They build their doghouse designs and test them by taking thermometer readings under hot lamps, and then think of ways to improve their designs. This is a great project for learning about light and heat: energy transfer, absorption, insulation and material properties, and easily scales up/down for size and materials.
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.