Students learn how 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is revolutionizing the manufacturing process. First, students learn what considerations to make in the engineering design process to print an object with quality and to scale. Students learn the basic principles of how a computer-aided design (CAD) model is converted to a series of data points then turned into a program that operates the 3D printer. The activity takes students through a step-by-step process on how a computer can control a manufacturing process through defined data points. Within this activity, students also learn how to program using basic G-code to create a wireframe 3D shapes that can be read by a 3D printer or computer numerical control (CNC) machine.
Students learn how nanoparticles can be creatively used for medical diagnostic purposes. They learn about buckminsterfullerenes, more commonly known as buckyballs, and about the potential for these complex carbon molecules to deliver drugs and other treatments into the human body. They brainstorm methods to track buckyballs in the body, then build a buckyball from pipe cleaners with a fluorescent tag to model how nanoparticles might be labeled and detected for use in a living organism. As an extension, students research and select appropriate radioisotopes for different medical applications.
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.
Beginning kindergarteners are introduced to science and engineering concepts through questions such as “What is a Scientist?” and “What is an Engineer?”, and go on to compare and contrast the two. They are introduced to five steps of the engineering design process and explore these steps using the “I do, we do, you do” set of guided instruction. At the end of the project, students produce a set of purple popsicles that they design using various materials and by following a set of criteria.
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.
Students act as if they are biological engineers following the steps of the engineering design process to design and create protein models to replace the defective proteins in a child’s body. Jumping off from a basic understanding of DNA and its transcription and translation processes, students learn about the many different proteins types and what happens if protein mutations occur. Then they focus on structural, transport and defense proteins during three challenges posed by the R&D; bio-engineering hypothetical scenario. Using common classroom supplies such as paper, tape and craft sticks, student pairs design, sketch, build, test and improve their own protein models to meet specific functional requirements: to strengthen bones (collagen), to capture oxygen molecules (hemoglobin) and to capture bacteria (antibody). By designing and testing physical models to accomplish certain functional requirements, students come to understand the relationship between protein structure and function. They graph and analyze the class data, then share and compare results across all teams to determine which models were the most successful. Includes a quiz, three worksheets and a reference sheet.
Students learn how to manipulate the behavior of water by using biochar—a soil amendment used to improve soil functions. As a fluid, water interacts with soil in a variety of ways. It may drain though a soil’s non-solid states, or its “pores”; lay above the soil; or move across cell membranes via osmosis. In this experiment, students solve the specific problem of standing water by researching, designing, and engineering solutions that enable water to drain faster. This activity is designed for students to explore how biochar helps soils to act as “sponges” in order to retain more water.
Students learn how engineers gather data and model motion using vectors. They learn about using motion-tracking tools to observe, record, and analyze vectors associated with the motion of their own bodies. They do this qualitatively and quantitatively by analyzing several examples of their own body motion. As a final presentation, student teams act as engineering consultants and propose the use of (free) ARK Mirror technology to help sports teams evaluate body mechanics. A pre/post quiz is provided.
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.
Students wire up their own digital trumpets using a MaKey MaKey. They learn the basics of wiring a breadboard and use the digital trumpets to count in the binary number system. Teams are challenged to play songs using the binary system and their trumpets, and then present them in a class concert.
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.
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.
As if they are environmental engineers, student pairs are challenged to use Google Earth Pro (free) GIS software to view and examine past data on hurricanes and tornados in order to (hypothetically) advise their state government on how to proceed with its next-year budget—to answer the question: should we reduce funding for natural disaster relief? To do this, students learn about maps, geographic information systems (GIS) and the global positioning system (GPS), and how they are used to deepen the way maps are used to examine and analyze data. Then they put their knowledge to work by using the GIS software to explore historical severe storm (tornado, hurricane) data in depth. Student pairs confer with other teams, conduct Internet research on specific storms and conclude by presenting their recommendations to the class. Students gain practice and perspective on making evidence-based decisions. A slide presentation as well as a student worksheet with instructions and questions are provided.
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.
Students learn and apply concepts in thermodynamics and energy—mainly convection, conduction, and radiation— to solve a challenge. This is accomplished by splitting students into teams and having them follow the engineering design process to design and build a small insulated box, with the goal of keeping an ice cube and a Popsicle from melting. Students are given a short traditional lecture to help familiarize them with the basic rules of thermodynamics and an introduction to materials science while they continue to monitor the ice within their team’s box.
Students explore the science of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) by using a molecular modeling set to model the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration—building on the concept of MFCs that they learned in the associated lesson, “Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration at the Atomic Level.” Students demonstrate the law of conservation of matter by counting atoms in the molecular modeling set. They also re-engineer a new molecular model from which to further gain an understanding of these concepts.
Students put their STEAM knowledge and skills to the test by creating indoor light fixture “clouds” that mimic current weather conditions or provide other colorful lighting schemes they program and control with smartphones. Groups fabricate the clouds from paper lanterns and pillow stuffing, adding LEDs to enable the simulation of different lighting conditions. They code the controls and connect the clouds to smart devices and the Internet cloud to bring their floating clouds to life as they change color based on the weather outside.
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.
Student teams design and then create small-size models of working filter systems to simulate multi-stage wastewater treatment plants. Drawing from assorted provided materials (gravel, pebbles, sand, activated charcoal, algae, coffee filters, cloth) and staying within a (hypothetical) budget, teams create filter systems within 2-liter plastic bottles to clean the teacher-made simulated wastewater (soap, oil, sand, fertilizer, coffee grounds, beads). They aim to remove the water contaminants while reclaiming the waste material as valuable resources. They design and build the filtering systems, redesigning for improvement, and then measuring and comparing results (across teams): reclaimed quantities, water quality tests, costs, experiences and best practices. They conduct common water quality tests (such as turbidity, pH, etc., as determined by the teacher) to check the water quality before and after treatment.
Students create silver nanoparticles using a chemical process; however, since these particles are not observable to the naked eye, they use empirical evidence and reasoning to discover them. Students first look for evidence of a chemical reaction by mixing various solutions and observing any reactions that may occur. Students discover that copper and tannic acids from tea reduce silver nitrate, which in turn form silver. They complete the reaction, allow the water to evaporate, and observe the silver nanoparticles they created in plastic dishes using a stereo microscope. Students iterate on their initial process and test to see if they can improve the manufacturing process of silver nanoparticles.
Students use the engineering design process to assemble an electric racer vehicle. After using Tinkercad to design blades for their racers, students print their designs using a MakerBot printer. Once the students finish assembly and install their vehicle’s air blades, they race their vehicles to see which design travels the furthest distance in the least amount of time. A discussion at the end of the activity allows students to reflect on what they learned and to evaluation the engineering design process as a group.
Students are presented with the following challenge: their new school is under construction and the architect accidentally put the music room next to the library. Students need to design a room that will absorb the most amount of sound so that the music does not disturb the library. Students use a box as a proxy for the room need to create a design that will decrease the sound that is coming from the outside of the box. To evaluate this challenge, students use a speaker within the box and a decibel meter outside the box to measure the effectiveness of their design.
Emphasizing the design, build, and test steps of the engineering design process, groups create a ping-pong paddle. After building their paddle, students conduct tests and compare their design to a store-bought paddle and use a Venn diagram to organize their information. Based on their results, students write product reviews for their paddle. This project allows students to build and test a design, iterate upon that design as well as explore how data analysis of a product works.
Students learn the concept behind the engineering design of a polymer brush—a coating consisting of polymers that is “tethered” to a particular surface. Polymer brushes can be used on water filtration membranes as an antifouling coating. After designing a model that represents an antifouling polymer brush coating for a water filtration surface, students take on the challenge to engineer their brush design on the surface of a Styrofoam block (which serves as a model for a surface filter) using various materials.
How can an understanding of pH—a logarithmic scale used to identify the acidity or basicity of a water-based solution—be used to design and create a color-changing paint? This activity provides students the opportunity to extract dyes from natural products and test dyes for acids or bases as teams develop a prototype “paint” that is eventually applied to help with a wall redesign at a local children’s hospital. Students learn about how dyes are extracted from organic material and use the engineering design process to test dyes using a variety of indicators to achieve the right color for their prototype. Students iterate on their dyes and use ratios and proportions to calculate the amount of dye needed to successfully complete their painting project.
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.
Students begin by following instructions to connect a Sunfounder Ultrasonic Sensor and an Arduino Microcontroller. Once they have them set up, students calibrate the sensor and practice using it. Students are then given an engineering design problem: to build a product that will use the ultrasonic sensors for a purpose that they all specify. Students will have to work together to design and test their product, and ultimately present it to their classmates.
Students experiment with various ways to naturally dye materials using sources found in nature—roots, leaves, seeds, spices, etc.—as well as the method of extracting dyes. Then they analyze various materials using statistical methods and tackle an engineering design challenge—to find dyes that best suit the needs of a startup sustainable clothing company.
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.
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.
Students are introduced to polymer science and take on the role of chemical engineers to create and test a plastic made from starch. After testing their potato-based plastic, students design a product that takes advantage of the polymer’s unique properties. At the end of the engineering design process, students present their product in a development “pitch” that communicates their idea to potential investors.
Students design a temporary habitat for a future classroom pet—a hingeback tortoise. Based on their background research, students identify what type of environment this tortoise needs and how to recreate that environment in the classroom. The students divide into groups and investigate the features of a habitat for a hingeback tortoise. These features include how many holes a temporary habitat may need, the animal’s ideal type of bedding, and how much water is needed to create the necessary humidity level within the tortoise’s environment. Each group communicates and presents this information to the rest of the class after they research, brainstorm, collect and analyze data, and design their final plan.
Students are introduced to the engineering design process within the context of reading Dr. Seuss’s book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck. To do so, students study a sample of aloe vera gel (representing the oobleck) in lab groups. After analyzing the substance, they use the engineering design process to develop and test other substances in order to make it easier for rain to wash away the oobleck. Students must work within a set of constraints outlined within the Seuss book and throughout the activity and use only substances available within the context of the plot. Students also take into consideration the financial and environmental costs associated with each substance.
Students use a recipe to prepare a hydrogel gummy snack, which has a similar consistency to that found in a Haribo® gummy product. They must convert the juice and gelatin-based recipe from US customary units to metric units with dimensional analysis conversion. After unit conversion, teams are given different gelatin quantities and design their gummy snacks. Once the candies have solidified, student groups compare the gummy snacks are for viscosity and taste. After a taste test, teams reflect on their experiment and brainstorm ways to iterate a better gummy recipe.
Students apply what they know about light polarization and attenuation (learned in the associated lesson) to design, build, test, refine and then advertise their prototypes for more effective sunglasses. Presented as a hypothetical design scenario, students act as engineers who are challenged to create improved sunglasses that reduce glare and lower light intensity while increasing eye protection from UVA and UVB radiation compared to an existing model of sunglasses—and make them as inexpensive as possible. They use a light meter to measure and compare light intensities through the commercial sunglasses and their prototype lenses. They consider the project requirements and constraints in their designs. They brainstorm and evaluate possible design ideas. They keep track of materials costs. They create and present advertisements to the class that promote the sunglasses benefits, using collected data to justify their claims. A grading rubric and reflection handout are provided.
To evaluate the different integumentary systems found in the animal kingdom, students conduct an exploratory research-based lab. During the activity, students create a model epidermis that contains phosphorescent powder and compare the results to a control model. After learning about the variations of integumentary systems—systems that comprise the skin and other appendages that act to protect animal bodies from damage—students act as engineers to mimic animal skin samples. Their goal is to create a skin sample that closely represents the animal they are mimicking while protecting the base ‘epidermis’ from UV light.
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.
Students take on the role of geographers and civil engineers and use a device enabled with the global positioning system (GPS) to locate geocache locations via a number of waypoints. Teams save their data points, upload them to geographic information systems (GIS) software, such as Google Earth, and create scale drawings of their explorations while solving problems of area, perimeter and rates. The activity is unique in its integration of technology for solving mathematical problems and asks students to relate GPS and GIS to engineering.
Students combine art, gaming culture and engineering by fabricating light-up patches to increase youngsters’ visibility at night. The open-ended project is presented as a hypothetical design challenge: Students are engineers who have been asked by a group of parents whose children go out Pokémon hunting at night to create glowing patches that they adhere to clothing or backpacks to help vehicle drivers see the kids in the dark. Student pairs create Pokémon character stencil designs cut from iron-on fabric patches, adding transparent layers for color. Placed over an EL (electroluminescent) panel that is connected to a battery pack, the stencils create glowing designs. Each team creates a circuit, which includes lengthening the EL panel wiring to make it easier to wear. Then they sew/adhere the patches onto hoodies, messenger bags, hats, pockets or other applications they dream up. The project concludes with team presentations as if to an audience of project clients. Keep the project simple by hand cutting and ironing/sewing, or use cutting machines, laser cutters and sewing machines, if available.
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.