Students investigate passive solar building design with a focus solely on heating. They learn how insulation, window placement, thermal mass, surface colors, and site orientation play important roles in passive solar heating. They use this information to design and build their own model houses, and test them for thermal gains and losses during a simulated day and night. Teams compare designs and make suggestions for improvements.
Passive Solar Design
Students are introduced to passive solar design for buildings — an approach that uses the sun’s energy and the surrounding climate to provide natural heating and cooling. They learn about some of the disadvantage of conventional heating and cooling and how engineers incorporate passive solar designs into our buildings for improved efficiency.
Swinging Pendulum (for High School)
This activity shows students the engineering importance of understanding the laws of mechanical energy. More specifically, it demonstrates how potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy and back again. Given a pendulum height, students calculate and predict how fast the pendulum will swing by using the equations for potential and kinetic energy. The equations will be justified as students experimentally measure the speed of the pendulum and compare theory with reality.
Sliders (for High School)
In this hands-on activity, students learn about two types of friction — static and kinetic — and the equation that governs them. They also measure the coefficient of static friction and the coefficient of kinetic friction experimentally.
Got Energy? Spinning a Food Web
Students learn about energy flow in food webs, including the roles of the sun, producers, consumers and decomposers in the energy cycle. They model a food web and create diagrams of food webs using their own drawings and/or images from nature or wildlife magazines. Students investigate the links between the sun, plants and animals, building their understanding of the web of nutrient dependency and energy transfer.
Students learn about the Earth’s only natural satellite, the Moon. They discuss the Moon’s surface features and human exploration. They also learn about how engineers develop technologies to study and explore the Moon, which also helps us learn more about the Earth.
A Simple Solution for the Circus
In this activity, students are challenged to design a contraption using simple machines to move a circus elephant into a rail car. After students consider their audience and constraints, they work in groups to brainstorm ideas and select one concept to communicate to the class.
Not So Simple
Students expand upon their understanding of simple machines with an introduction to compound machines. A compound machine — a combination of two or more simple machines — can affect work more than its individual components. Engineers who design compound machines aim to benefit society by lessening the amount of work that people exert for even common household tasks. This lesson encourages students to critically think about machine inventions and their role in our lives.
The Magician’s Catapult
In this activity, students reinforce their understanding of compound machines by building a catapult. This compound machine consists of a lever and a wheel-and-axel. Catapults have been designed by engineers for a variety of purposes — from lifting boulders into the air for warfare to human beings for entertainment; the projectiles in this activity are grapes for a magic act. Given the building materials, students design and build their catapult to launch a grape a certain distance.
Household energy audit
Students review the electrical appliances used at home and estimate the energy used for each. The results can help to show the energy hogs that could benefit from conservation or improved efficiency.
Efficiency of a water heating system
Students use a watt meter to measure energy input into a hot plate or hot pot used to heat water. The theoretical amount of energy required to raise the water by the measure temperature change is calculated and compared to the electrical energy input to calculate efficiency.
A quantitative illustration of how non-renewable resources are depleted while renewable resources continue to provide energy. The activity requires students to remove beads (units of energy) from a bag (representing a country). A certain number of beads are removed from the bag each “year.” At some point, no non-renewable beads remain. Groups of students have different ratios of renewable and non-renewable energy beads. A comparison of the remaining beads and time when they ran out of energy
Household Energy Conservation and Efficiency
Students complete three different activities to evaluate the energy consumption in a household and explore potential ways to reduce that consumption. The focus is on conservation and energy efficient electrical devices and appliances. The lesson reinforces the relationship between power and energy and associated measurements and calculations required to evaluate energy consumption. The lesson provides the students with more concrete information for completing their culminating unit assignment.
Students do work by lifting a known mass over a period of time. The mass and measured distance and time is used to calculate force, work, energy and power in metric units. The students’ power is then compared to horse power and the power required to light a 60 W light bulb.
Light vs. Heat Bulbs
Students measure the light output and temperature (as a measure of heat output) for three types of light bulbs to identify why some light bulbs are more efficient (more light with less energy) than others.
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Students discuss several human reproductive technologies available today — pregnancy ultrasound, amniocentesis, in-vitro fertilization and labor anesthetics. They learn how each technology works, and that these are ways engineers have worked to improve the health of expecting mothers and babies.
Biomedical Engineering and the Human Body
Human beings are fascinating and complex living organisms — a symphony of different functional systems working in concert. Through a ten-lesson series with hands-on activities students are introduced to seven systems of the human body — skeletal, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, sensory, and reproductive — as well as genetics. At every stage, they are also introduced to engineers’ creative, real-world involvement in caring for the human body.
Muscles, Oh My!
Students are introduced to how engineering closely relates to the field of biomechanics and how the muscular system produces human movement. They learn the importance of the muscular system in our daily lives, why it is important to be able to repair muscular injuries and how engineering helps us by creating things to benefit our muscular health, movement and repair.
Cutting Through Soil
Students pretend they are agricultural engineers during the colonial period and design a miniature plow that cuts through a “field” of soil. They are introduced to the engineering design process and learn of several famous historical figures who contributed to plow design.
In this unit, students first are introduced to the historical motivation for space exploration. They learn about the International Space Station and are introduced to new and futuristic ideas that space engineers are currently working on to propel space research. Next, students learn about the physical properties of the Moon. They are asked to think about what types of products engineers would need to design for us to live comfortably on the Moon. Lastly, students learn some basic facts about as