Students become product engineers in a bouncy ball factory as they design and prototype a polymer bouncy ball that meets specific requirements: must be spherical in shape, cannot disintegrate when thrown on the ground, and, of course, must bounce. Along with these design elements, students can build (with teacher assistance) a “shadow box” that helps measure the contact angle of the polymer that provides data on how to iterate. In addition, students must consider the aesthetics of their bouncy balls for customer approval and marketing purposes. Using the engineering design process, students design and create bouncy balls from polymers to create a fun, exciting toy for children.
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!
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!
Bluetooth is everywhere—from smartphones to computers to cars. Even though students are exposed to this technology, many are not aware of how they can use it themselves to wirelessly control their own creative projects! For this challenge, students build on what they learned during a previous Arduino maker challenge, Make and Control a Servo Arm with Your Computer, and learn how to control a servo with an Android phone (iPhones do not work with the components used in this challenge). By the end of the exercise, expect students to be wirelessly controlling a servo with a simple phone application!
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.
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.
Students design and create their own nano-polymer smartphone or tablet case. Students choose their design, mix their nano-polymer (based in silicone) with starch and add coloring of their choice. While thinking critically about their design, students embed strings in the nano-polymer to optimize both case strength and flexibility. Students may apply strings in a variety of ways in order to maximize their individual design’s potential. Determining the best mixing ratio is also key for success in this challenge.
Students program the drive motors of a SparkFun RedBot with a multistep control sequence—a “dance.” Doing this is a great introduction to robotics and improves overall technical literacy by helping students understand that we use programs to control the motion and function of robots, and without the correct programming, robots do not operate as intended and are unable to complete simple tasks that we count on them to perform. Students are given the basic code and then time to experiment, alter and evolve it on their own. As time permits, students may also want to construct and decorate frames and chassis for their robots using found/recycled materials such as cardboard boxes.
This biomimetic engineering challenge introduces students to the fields of nanotechnology and biomimicry. Students explore how to modify surfaces such as wood or cotton fabric at the nanoscale. They create specialized materials with features such as waterproofing and stain resistance. The challenge starts with student teams identifying an intended user and developing scenarios for using their developed material. Students then design and create their specialized material using everyday materials. Each students test each design under specific testing constraints to determine the hydrophobicity of the material. After testing, teams iterate ways to improve their self-cleaning superhydrophobic modification technique for their design. After iterating and testing their designs, students present their final product and results to the class.
Students learn about the engineering design process and how products may be reinvented to serve new purposes. Working in groups, students design a type of slime. After creating their slime, the teacher turns out the lights and the students see that the slime they made actually glows in the dark! The groups investigate how to take their new discoveries and apply them to industrial applications. Once they have determined a use for their glowing slime, each group must build/design and test their product outside of class. The groups then create advertisements (videos, brochures, performances, etc.) for their new product(s) or application(s), and present to the judges for review similar to a “Shark Tank” environment.
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.
Students design a cooler and monitor the effectiveness of its ability to keep a bottle of ice water cold in comparison to a bottle of ice water left at room temperature. Students have the opportunity to brainstorm a design of their cooler and its attributes. They then choose from the materials provided to create a prototype. They have the opportunity to test their prototype by measuring the room temperature, the starting temperature of the water and graphing and monitoring the change in temperature over increments time in comparison to the room temperature water.
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.
Computer-controlled servos enable industrial robots to manufacture everything from vehicles to smartphones. For this maker challenge, students control a simple servo arm by sending commands with their computers to Arduinos using the serial communication protocol. This exercise walks students through the (sometimes) unintuitive nuances of this protocol, so by the end they can directly control the servo position with the computer. Once students master the serial protocol, they are ready to build some suggested interactive projects using the computer or “cut the cord” and get started with wireless Bluetooth or XBee communication.
The goal of this maker challenge is to demystify sensors, in particular the ambient light sensor, and to map its readings visually. In today’s world, we make sense of the environment around us by filling it with sensors, and we use output devices to display real-time data in a meaningful way. Take any smartphone as an example. Aside from the embedded camera and microphone, a number of other sensors collect a wide range of data. Depending upon the model, these sensors may collect data on proximity, motion, ambient light, moisture, compass, and touch. Some of these data are directly visualized through an app, while many operate internally and without a user interface, just below the surface of the screen. In order to become more familiar with the technology that we use (and often take for granted) on a daily basis, your challenge is to assemble a light sensor circuit, observe its readings using the Arduino Serial Monitor, and then create your own unique visualization by interfacing with the Processing software. Students learn how to use calibration and smoothing to capture a better picture of the data. Afterwards, they share their visualizations with the entire class. The time required for this challenge depends on students’ prior knowledge of Arduino and Processing software. Background resources for beginners help students get up to speed on microcontroller hardware and offer additional challenges for intermediate and advanced users.
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.
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.
Students research simple machines and other mechanisms as they learn about and make Rube Goldberg machines. Working in teams, students design and build their own Rube Goldberg devices with 10 separate steps, including at least six simple machines. In addition to the use of readily available classroom craft supplies, 3D printers may be used (if available) to design and print one or more device mechanisms. Students love this open-ended, team-building project with great potential for creativity and humor.
Students engineer a working pair of shin guards for soccer or similar contact sport from everyday materials. Since many factors go into the design of a shin guard, students follow the Engineering Design Process to create a prototype. Along the way, students keep a notebook documenting each stage of the process and reflect on what their learned during the design.
For this maker challenge, students become biomedical engineers who design, create, and test a medical device that measures a patient’s pulse using a microcontroller, LED, and light sensor. Students use data collected from the device they build to determine how to best visualize the results, so that a doctor can view the patient’s pulse on the computer screen. During the challenge, students learn about basic coding, the capabilities of microcontrollers, how sensors gather data, how the human circulatory system works, and how to plot real data. Finally, students are challenged to make their systems portable so that they create wearable health technology. This is a great project for a high school senior design team project.