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 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.