Beyond the Milky Way
When we look at the night sky, we see stars and the nearby planets of our own solar system. Many of those stars are actually distant galaxies and glowing clouds of dust and gases called nebulae. The universe is an immense space with distances measured in light years. The more we learn about the universe beyond our solar system, the more we realize we do not know. Students are introduced to the basic known facts about the universe, and how engineers help us explore the many mysteries of space.
Amusement Park Ride: Ups and Downs in Design
Students design, build and test model roller coasters using foam tubing. The design process integrates energy concepts as they test and evaluate designs that address the task as an engineer would. The goal is for students to understand the basics of engineering design associated with kinetic and potential energy to build an optimal roller coaster. The marble starts with potential energy that is converted to kinetic energy as it moves along the track. The diameter of the loops that the marble tra
Life in Space: The International Space Station
Students are introduced to the International Space Station (ISS) with information about its structure, operation and key experiments. The ISS itself is an experiment in international cooperation to explore the potential for humans to live in space. The space station features state-of-the-art science and engineering laboratories to conduct research in medicine, materials and fundamental science to benefit people on Earth as well as people who will live in space in the future.
Building Roller Coasters
Students build their own roller coasters using pipe insulation and marbles, and then analyze them using principles of physics. They examine conversions between kinetic and potential energy and frictional effects to design roller coasters that are completely driven by gravity. A class competition is then held to determine the most innovative and successful roller coasters.
Rolling Blackouts & Environmental Impact – What are our Electricity Options?
The goal is for the students to understand the environmental design considerations required when generating electricity. The electric power that we use every day at home and work is generated by a variety of power plants. Power plants are engineered to utilize the conversion of one form of energy to another. The main components of a power plant are an input source of energy that is used to turn large turbines, and a method to convert the turbine rotation into electricity. The input sources of en
Designing a Package that Works
The goal is for students to understand the basics of engineering associated with the packaging of items to preserve, market, and safely deliver products. The packaging for each type of use varies. While observing and thinking about all packaging is encouraged, this activity focuses on packaging for transporting goods (shipping).
Mars and Jupiter
Students explore Mars and Jupiter, the fourth and fifth planets from the Sun. They learn some of the unique characteristics of these planets. They also learn how engineers help us learn about these planets with the design and development of telescopes, deep space antennas, spacecraft and planetary rovers.
Students learn how using a spectrograph helps us understand the composition of light sources. Using simple materials and holographic diffraction gratings (available online at a variety of sites, including Edmund Scientifics and the Rainbow Symphony Store for ~50 cents each), students create and customize their own spectrographs - just like engineers. They gather data about different light sources, make comparisons between sources, and theorize about their composition. Before building spectrograp
Pictures Please – Traveling Light
In this lesson, students learn that light travels in a straight line from a light source and that ray diagrams help us understand how an image will be created by a lens. In the accompanying activity, students explore the concepts behind the workings of a pinhole camera.
Through a five-lesson series with five hands-on activities, students are introduced to six simple machines - inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, wheel-and-axle - as well as compound machines, which are combinations of two or more simple machines. Once students understand about work (work = force x distance), they become familiar with the machines' mechanical advantages, and see how they make work easier. Through an introduction to compound machines, students begin to think critically ab
Rube Goldberg and the Meaning of Machines
Simple and compound machines are designed to make work easier. When we encounter a machine that does not fit this understanding, the so-called machine seems absurd. In this lesson, the cartoons of Rube Goldberg are introduced and engage the students in critical thinking about the way his inventions make a simple task even harder to complete. As the final lesson in the simple machines unit, the study of Rube Goldberg machines can help students evaluate the importance and usefulness of the many ma
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.
Design and Build a Rube Goldberg
In this two-part activity, students design and build a Rube Goldberg machine. The open ended problem uses the engineering design process and can have a preset purpose, such as rolling a marble into a cup from a distance, or can be left for the students to decide.
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.
Machines and Tools, Part II
In this activity, students gain first-hand experience with the mechanical advantage of pulleys. Students are given the challenge of helping save a whale by moving it from an aquarium back to its natural habitat into the ocean. They set up different pulley systems, compare the theoretical and actual mechanical advantage of each and discuss their recommendations as a class.
In this activity, students act as environmental engineers involved with the clean up of a toxic spill. Using bioremediation as the process, students select which bacteria they will use to eat up the pollutant spilled. Students learn how engineers use bioremediation to make organism degrade harmful chemicals. Engineers must make sure bacteria have everything they need to live and degrade contaminants for bioremediation to happen. Students learn about the needs of living things by setting up an ex
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.
A process for technical problem solving is introduced and applied to a fun demonstration. Given the success with the demo, the iterative nature of the process can be illustrated.
This activity illustrates the interrelationship between science and engineering in the context of extinction prevention. There are two parts to the activity. The first part challenges students to think like scientists as they generate reports on endangered species and give presentations worthy of a news channel or radio broadcast. The second part puts students in the shoes of engineers, designing ways to help the endangered species.
Our Amazing, Powerful Sun
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the students to the Sun. They explore various aspects of the Sun including its composition, its interior workings, and its relationship to the Earth.