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Continuous Line Robots and Art Activity

Published on August 24, 2016

Students use the robot paths they documented during the associated Robots on Ice Engineering Challenge activity to learn about and then make artwork. During the previous activity, students recorded the path of their robots through a maze in order to collect data during a remote research simulation. Now, they take a new look at the robot paths, seeing them from an art perspective as continuous line drawings. Students learn about Picasso’s famous works of art that used the same technique. Then they learn the artistic definition of a line and see examples of how it is used in different art pieces; they practice making continuous line drawings and then create sculptures of their drawings using colorful wire. A PowerPoint® presentation is provided to guide the activity.

Robots on Ice Engineering Challenge Activity

Published on August 24, 2016

In a simulation of potential future space missions to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, student teams are challenged to direct a robot placed in an enclosed maze to search for and find the most “alien life.” The robot is equipped with a camera to send a live feed of its surroundings in the maze. Students control the robot from outside the maze by looking at the live feed on a smartphone and using the robot’s remote control, making a map as they go. The student teams compete as if they are space agencies creating their own exploratory systems to meet the challenge’s criteria and constraints and prove “in the field” that they have the best plan to win the mission contract and get the job. This activity simulates the real-world research of scientists and engineers developing a robot with the capabilities to explore under the ice-covered surface of Europa.

Robots on Ice Lesson

Published on August 24, 2016

Students learn about humankind’s search for life in outer space and how it connects to robotics and engineering. NASA is interested in sending exploratory missions to one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, which requires a lot of preparatory research and development on Earth before it can happen. One robot currently being engineered as a proof of concept for a possible trip to explore Europa is the Icefin, which is an innovative robot that can explore under ice and in water, which are the believed conditions on Europa. This lesson provides students with intriguing information about far off (distance and time!) space missions and field robotics, and also sets up two associated robotics and arts integration activities to follow. The lesson can be used individually to provide new information to students, or as a precursor to the associated activities. A PowerPoint® presentation and worksheet are provided.

Diseases Exposed: ESR Test in the Classroom Activity

Published on August 23, 2016

Students demonstrate the erythrocyte sedimentation rate test (ESR test) using a blood model composed of tomato juice, petroleum jelly and olive oil. They simulate different disease conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, leukocytosis and sickle-cell anemia, by making appropriate variations in the particle as well as in the fluid matrix. Students measure the ESR for each sample blood model, correlate the ESR values with disease conditions and confirm that diseases alter blood composition and properties. During the activity, students learn that when non-coagulated blood is let to stand in a tube, the red blood cells separate and fall to the bottom of the tube, resulting in a sediment and a clear liquid called serum. The height in millimeters of the clear liquid on top of the sediment in a time period of one hour is taken as the sedimentation rate. If a disease is present, this ESR value deviates from the normal, disease-free value. Different diseases cause different ESR values because blood composition and properties, such as density and viscosity, are altered differently by different diseases. Thus, the ESR test serves as a real-world diagnostic screening test to identify indications of the presence of any diseases in people.

Communicating Your Results Activity

Published on August 3, 2016

Students groups create scientific research posters to professionally present the results of their AQ-IQ research projects, which serves as a conclusion to the unit. (This activity is also suitable to be conducted independently from its unit—for students to make posters for any type of project they have completed.) First, students critically examine example posters to gain an understanding of what they contain and how they can be made most effective for viewers. Then they are prompted to analyze and interpret their data, including what statistics and plots to use in their posters. Finally, groups are given a guide that aids them in making their posters by suggesting all the key components one would find in any research paper or presentation. This activity is suitable for presenting final project posters to classmates or to a wider audience in a symposium or expo environment. In addition to the poster-making guide, three worksheets, six example posters, a rubric and a post-unit survey are provided.

Study Design for Air Quality Research Activity

Published on August 3, 2016

Students take an in-depth look at what goes into planning a research project, which prepares them to take the lead on their own projects. Examining a case study, students first practice planning a research project that compares traditional cook stoves to improved cook stoves for use in the developing world. Then they compare their plans to one used in the real-world by professional researchers, gaining perspective and details on the thought and planning that goes into good research work. Then students are provided with example materials, a blank template and support to take them from brainstorming to completing a detailed research plan for their own air quality research projects. Conducting students’ AQ-IQ research studies requires additional time and equipment beyond this planning activity. Then after the data is collected and analyzed, teams interpret the data and present summary research posters by conducting the next associated activity Numerous student handouts and a PowerPoint® presentation are provided.

Understanding the Air through Data Analysis Activity

Published on August 3, 2016

Students build on their existing air quality knowledge and a description of a data set to each develop a hypothesis around how and why air pollutants vary on a daily and seasonal basis. Then they are guided by a worksheet through an Excel-based analysis of the data. This includes entering formulas to calculate statistics and creating plots of the data. As students complete each phase of the analysis, reflection questions guide their understanding of what new information the analysis reveals. At activity end, students evaluate their original hypotheses and “put all of the pieces together.” The activity includes one carbon dioxide worksheet/data set and one ozone worksheet/data set; providing students and/or instructors with a content option. The activity also serves as a good standalone introduction to using Excel.

Combustion and Air Quality: Emissions Monitoring Activity

Published on August 2, 2016

As a class, students use a low-cost air quality monitor (a rentable “Pod”) to measure the emissions from different vehicles. By applying the knowledge about combustion chemistry that they gain during the pre-activity reading (or lecture presentation, alternatively), students predict how the emissions from various vehicles will differ in terms of pollutants (CO2, VOCs and NO2), and explain why. After data collection, students examine the time series plots as a class—a chance to interpret the results and compare them to their predictions. Short online videos and a current event article help to highlight the real-world necessity of understanding and improving vehicle emissions. Numerous student handouts are provided. The activity content may be presented independently of its unit and without using an air quality monitor by analyzing provided sample data.

An Introduction to Air Quality Research Lesson

Published on August 2, 2016

This lesson conveys core information about why air quality is important and how engineers tackle complex environmental problems—providing a foundation for the subsequent five activities. Students learn the basics about the structure of the Earth’s atmosphere, the types of pollutants that are present in the atmosphere (primary, secondary, gas-phase compounds, particulate matter), and the importance of air quality research. They are also introduced to some engineering concepts such as how air quality measurements are made and how control technologies work. A PowerPoint® presentation, teacher slide notes, blank vocabulary list, post-lecture quiz, homework handout, and a pre-unit STEM survey are provided. This lesson and its five associated activities are intended to prepare and guide students to take on their own research projects.

Linking Sources and Pollutants Activity

Published on August 2, 2016

Students use next-generation air quality monitors to measure gas-phase pollutants in the classroom. They apply the knowledge they gained during the associated lesson—an understanding of the connection between air pollutants and their possible sources. Student teams choose three potential pollutant sources and predict how the monitor’s sensors will respond. Then they evaluate whether or not their predictions were correct, and provide possible explanations for any inaccuracies. This activity serves as a simple introduction to the low-cost air quality monitoring technology that students use throughout the associated activities that follow. Three student handouts are provided.

Air Quality InQuiry (AQ-IQ) Curricular Unit

Published on August 1, 2016

Students engage in hands-on, true-to-life research experiences on air quality topics chosen for personal interest through a unit composed of one lesson and five associated activities. Using a project-based learning approach suitable for secondary science classrooms and low-cost air quality monitors, students gain the background and skills needed to conduct their own air quality research projects. The curriculum provides: 1) an introduction to air quality science, 2) data collection practice, 3) data analysis practice, 4) help planning and conducting a research project and 5) guidance in interpreting data and presenting research in professional poster format. The comprehensive curriculum requires no pre-requisite knowledge of air quality science or engineering. This curriculum takes advantage of low-cost, next-generation, open-source air quality monitors called Pods. These monitors were developed in a mechanical engineering lab at the University of Colorado Boulder and are used for academic research as well as education and outreach. The monitors are made available for use with this curriculum through AQ-IQ Kits that may be rented from the university by teachers. Alternatively, nearly the entire unit, including the student-directed projects, could also be completed without an air quality monitor. For example, students can design research projects that utilize existing air quality data instead of collecting their own, which is highly feasible since much data is publically available. In addition, other low-cost monitors could be used instead of the Pods. Also, the curriculum is intentionally flexible, so that the lesson and its activities can be used individually. See the Other section for details about the Pods and ideas for alternative equipment, usage without air quality monitors, and adjustments to individually teach the lesson and activities.

Soap vs. Shampoo Surfactant Lab Activity

Published on July 12, 2016

Students learn about the properties of solutions—such as ion interactions, surface tension and viscosity—as they make their own soap and shampoo and then compare their properties. Working as if they are chemical engineers, they explore and compare how the two surfactants behave in tap water, as well as classroom-prepared acidic water, hard water and seawater using four tests: a “shake test” (assessing the amount of bubbles produced), a surface tension test, a viscosity test, and a pH test. Then they coalesce their findings into a recommendation for how to engineer the best soap versus shampoo. The activity may be shortened by using purchased liquid soap and shampoo from which students proceed to conduct the four tests. A lab worksheet and post-quiz are provided.

Engineering Derby: Tool Ingenuity Activity

Published on July 7, 2016

Student teams are challenged to navigate a table tennis ball through a timed obstacle course using only the provided unconventional “tools.” Teams act as engineers by working through the steps of the engineering design process to complete the overall task with each group member responsible to accomplish one of the obstacle course challenges. Inspired by the engineers who helped the Apollo 13 astronauts through critical problems in space, students must be innovative with the provided supplies to use them as tools to move the ball through the obstacles as swiftly as possible. Groups are encouraged to communicate with each other to share vital information. The course and tool choices are easily customizable for varied age groups and/or difficulty levels. Pre/post assessment handouts, competition rules and judging rubric are provided.

Statistical Analysis of Methods to Repair Cracked Steel Activity

Published on June 29, 2016

Students apply pre-requisite statistics knowledge and concepts learned in an associated lesson to a real-world state-of-the-art research problem that asks them to quantitatively analyze the effectiveness of different cracked steel repair methods. As if they are civil engineers, students statistically analyze and compare 12 sets of experimental data from seven research centers around the world using measurements of central tendency, five-number summaries, box-and-whisker plots and bar graphs. The data consists of the results from carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer patched and unpatched cracked steel specimens tested under the same stress conditions. Based on their findings, students determine the most effective cracked steel repair method, create a report, and present their results, conclusions and recommended methods to the class as if they were presenting to the mayor and city council. This activity and its associated lesson are suitable for use during the last six weeks of the AP Statistics course; see the topics and timing note for details.

Repairing Cracked Steel Structures with Carbon Fiber Patches Lesson

Published on June 29, 2016

Over several days, students learn about composites, including carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers, and their applications in modern life. This prepares students to be able to put data from an associated statistical analysis activity into context as they conduct meticulous statistical analyses to evaluate/determine the effectiveness of carbon fiber patches to repair steel. This lesson and its associated activity are suitable for use during the last six weeks of an AP Statistics course; see the topics and timing note for details. A PowerPoint® presentation and post-quiz are provided.

Sound Visualization Stations Activity

Published on June 28, 2016

Students learn about sound and sound energy as they gather evidence that sound travels in waves. Teams work through five activity stations that provide different perspectives on how sound can be seen and felt. At one station, students observe oobleck (a shear-thickening fluid made of cornstarch and water) “dance” on a speaker as it interacts with sound waves (see Figure 1). At another station, the water or grain inside a petri dish placed on a speaker moves and make patterns, giving students a visual understanding of the wave properties of sound. At another station, students use objects of various materials and shapes (such as Styrofoam, paper, cardboard, foil) to amplify or distort the sound output of a homemade speaker (made from another TeachEngineering activity). At another station, students complete practice problems, drawing waves of varying amplitude and frequency. And at another station, they experiment with string (and guitar wire and stringed instruments, if available) to investigate how string tightness influences the plucked sound generated, and relate this sound to high/low frequency. A worksheet guides them through the five stations. Some or all of the stations may be included, depending on class size, resources and available instructors/aides, and this activity is ideal for an engineering family event.

What Makes an Eruption Explosive? Activity

Published on June 22, 2016

Students learn about the underlying factors that can contribute to Plinian eruptions (which eject large amounts of pumice, gas and volcanic ash, and can result in significant death and destruction in the surrounding environment), versus more gentle, effusive eruptions. Students explore two concepts related to the explosiveness of volcanic eruptions, viscosity and the rate of degassing, by modelling the concepts with the use of simple materials. They experiment with three fluids of varying viscosities, and explore the concept of degassing as it relates to eruptions through experimentation with carbonated beverage cans. Finally, students reflect on how the scientific concepts covered in the activity connect to useful engineering applications, such as community evacuation planning and implementation, and mapping of safe living zones near volcanoes. A PowerPoint® presentation and student worksheet are provided.

Acoustic Mirrors Activity

Published on June 22, 2016

Students play and record the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” song using musical instruments and analyze the intensity of the sound using free audio editing and recording software. Then they use hollow Styrofoam half-spheres as acoustic mirrors (devices that reflect and focus sound), determine the radius of curvature of the mirror and calculate its focal length. Students place a microphone at the acoustic mirror focal point, re-record their songs, and compare the sound intensity on plot spectrums generated from their recordings both with and without the acoustic mirrors. A worksheet and KWL chart are provided.

Rebuilding Soil with Biochar Activity

Published on May 18, 2016

Students learn about soil properties and the effect biochar—charcoal used as a soil amendment—has on three soil types, sand, loam and clay. They test the soils’ water retention capability before and after the addition of biochar. During the activity, student teams prepare soil mixtures, make observations (including microscopic examinations), compare soil properties, conduct water retention tests, take and record measurements, and analyze their observations and data. They see how the physical properties of soils—color, texture, and particle size—can be indicators of nutrient content and water retention capabilities to support plant growth. From their findings, they consider biochar’s potential benefits for environmental and agricultural applications, especially in conditions of drought and depleted soils. An activity lab sheet is provided to guide experimental data collection and analysis.

Alloy the Way to Mars Activity

Published on May 18, 2016

Acting as engineering teams, students take measurements and make calculations to determine the specific strength of various alloys and then report their data to the rest of the class. Using this class data, students write data-based recommendations to NASA regarding the best alloy to use in the construction of the engine and engine turbines for the Space Launch System that will eventually be used to transport astronauts to Mars.

Alloy Advantage Lesson

Published on May 18, 2016

Students define and classify alloys as mixtures, while comparing and contrasting the properties of alloys to those of pure substances. Students learn that engineers investigate the structures and properties of alloys for biomedical and transportation applications. Pre- and post-assessment handouts are provided.

Wind Power (for Informal Learning) Sprinkle

Published on May 13, 2016

Students build small wind turbines to see how much wind energy they can transform into electrical energy.

Super Spinners (for Informal Learning) Sprinkle

Published on May 13, 2016

Students build simple spinners to learn about rotation.

Straw Bridges (for Informal Learning) Sprinkle

Published on May 13, 2016

Students design, build and test truss bridges made of straws and tape to see how much weight they can support.

Selectively Permeable Membranes Activity

Published on May 12, 2016

Students learn that engineers develop different polymers to serve various functions and are introduced to selectively permeable membranes. In a warm-up activity, they construct models of selectively permeable membranes using common household materials, and are reminded about simple diffusion and passive transport. In the main activity, student pairs test and compare the selective permeability of everyday polymer materials engineered for food storage (including plastic grocery bags, zipper sandwich bags, and plastic wrap) with various in-solution molecules (iodine, corn starch, food coloring, marker dye), assess how the polymer’s permeability relates to its function/purpose, and compare that to the permeability of dialysis tubing (which simulates a cell membrane).

Clean Enough to Drink Activity

Published on April 16, 2016

Students act as engineers contracted by NASA to create water filtration devices that clean visible particulates from teacher-prepared "dirty water." They learn about the worldwide need for potable water and gain appreciation for why water quality is an important issue for people on Earth as well as on the International Space Station. Working in groups, students experience the entire engineering design process, including a read-aloud book about the water cycle; a visiting water engineer presentation; their own online research about filter methods and designs; group brainstorming of designs (using ordinary household materials); filter construction and testing; redesign and retesting; lab book documentation of their notes, research, plans and results; and a summary poster presentation at a mini-engineering fair. Two design planning worksheets, a poster layout suggestion sheet and a grading rubric are provided.

When Should I Drink My Hot Chocolate? Activity

Published on March 31, 2016

Students act as food science engineers as they explore and apply their understanding of cooling rate and specific heat capacity by completing two separate, but interconnected, tasks. In Part 1, student groups conduct an experiment to explore the cooling rate of a cup of hot chocolate. They collect and graph data to create a mathematical model that represents the cooling rate, and use an exponential decay regression to determine how long a person should wait to drink the cup of hot chocolate at an optimal temperature. In Part 2, students investigate the specific heat capacity of the hot chocolate. They determine how much energy is needed to heat the hot chocolate to an optimal temperature after it has cooled to room temperature. Two activity-guiding worksheets are included.

The Lunch-Bot Activity

Published on March 25, 2016

Students are challenged to design and program Arduino-controlled robots that behave like simple versions of the automated guided vehicles engineers design for real-world applications. Using Arduino microcontroller boards, infrared (IR) sensors, servomotors, attachable wheels and plastic containers (for the robot frame), they make "Lunch-Bots." Teams program the robots to meet the project constraints—to follow a line of reflective tape, make turns and stop at a designated spot to deliver a package, such as a sandwich or pizza slice. They read and interpret analog voltages from IR sensors, compare how infrared reflects differently off different materials, and write Arduino programs that use IR sensor inputs to control the servomotors. Through the process, students experience the entire engineering design process. Pre/post-quizzes and coding help documents are provided.

What Is an IR Sensor? Lesson

Published on March 25, 2016

Students learn about infrared energy and how it is used to sense the surrounding environment. They review where infrared falls on the electromagnetic spectrum and learn how infrared sensors work, as well as various ways engineers and scientists create and apply infrared technology to study science and collect information for security, communications, medical, research and other purposes. Pre/post-quizzes and a take-home assignment are provided. Learning the concepts prepares students to conduct the associated activity in which they design and program Arduino-controlled robots that use IR sensors to follow a line and make designated stops, much like the automated guided vehicles used in industry and commerce.

Protect the Pump! Activity

Published on March 17, 2016

Students learn how biomedical engineers work with engineers and other professionals to develop dependable medical devices. Specifically, they learn about suction pumps, which are important devices to keep in good repair, especially when they are used in remote locations. Student teams brainstorm, sketch, design and create prototypes of suction pump protection devices to keep fluid from backing up and ruining the pump motors. Using a real suction pump, they conduct repeated trials to test their devices for reliability, making improvements as necessary.