Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Posts Tagged ‘Engineering

helping handI did this engineering challenge last year, but it didn’t go the way I wanted it to.  I provided the kids with a stick, about 25″ long as the basis of a reach device.  My mistake was allowing them to split the stick in half.  As a result, they all made a big scissor and then made some small modification to make it grip.

This year, I have added a whole new level to the challenge.  The stick can not be cut, only drilled for brass fasteners.  They are given a budget and each item has a cost.  I made sure they can only purchase a single stick with their budget.  Purchasing two of them will put them immediately over budget and cost them lots of points.

The challenge came from pbs.org/designsquad, they have a few things there worth looking at if you are into engineering challenges.  I downloaded the information a while ago.  Here is the link for the activity:  http://pbskids.org/designsquad/parentseducators/resources/helping_hand.html

Here is how I modified the activity for use in my classroom:  Helping Hand Challenge.  If you use this, let me know what you add or change.  I will be using this tomorrow.  The scoring rubric is at the bottom.

Update:  I’m still angry over how some of the kids approached this.  A couple of the really lazy ones did nothing but complain for two days.  At the last second, they purchased a foot of tape, wrapped it around the stick and then tried picking up the objects with the sticky tape.  Naturally, I changed the rules so that can’t happen next year.  Tape got very expensive.  I also changed the grading to downplay the points earned for moving the object and increasing points for the design.  Essentially, I changed the grading to reflect effort and creativity.  With the change in focus, I will need to watch for students copying ideas.

To be fair, I had a couple excellent designs.  Some were quite well thought out.  I had one group use rubber bands at the tip to increase friction of the grabber. Helping Hand 2013-03-22 09.38.51

Last year, the course was actually called Robotics and Astronomy, or Robostronomy for short.  The intent was half-year of each.  The result was more like three weeks of astronomy and robotics all year-long.  Don’t get me wrong, I love astronomy.  It’s just, well, Robots took over the Earth.  Between the great things we could do with the MindStorm, and then the SeaPerch competition, we were all robots, all the time.  This year we are adding the First Tech Challenge.  Yep, Robots have taken over the Earth, and it looks like they landed in my classroom.

The goal here is STEM, that’s what opened the door for the robot invasion in the first place.  Clearly missing from our program these days is what we called in the old days, ‘drafting.’  Drafting isn’t done on a board with a T-square anymore, but you all know that.  Today, 3D mechanical Computer Aided Design (CAD) is available for free from Google (Sketch-up), and from a number of companies who cater to the high-end.  I actually know this industry well, I spent 25 years in the CAD/CAM/CAE industry (M for manufacturing, E for Engineering, meaning simulation).

So with some guidance from some friends at Drexel University, and a little research on my own, I decide to go with SolidWorks software.  All of the vendors have aggressively priced programs for the educational market, I think we are paying just $1000 for a 10-seat license.  What makes this software connect to the students is what we spit out of it.  The school invested in a 3D printer, specifically uPrint Plus from Dimension.

If you have never seen one of these, think Star Trek Replicator.  The replicator creates parts from ABS+ plastic directly from the output of the 3D CAD.  How better to teach engineering principles than to give the students a design challenge, have them work through designs and then fabricate it in the printer.  Here is a great video from a customer talking about how they use a 3D printer in their engineering design work.

My new printer is due here any day and I’m pumped up.  Yep, geek boy has a new toy.  Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!

Cards on the table… I outright stole this project.  My daughter was competing in the Physics Olympiad this weekend and one of the activities was to build a tower of marshmallows and toothpicks that can support a ping pong ball.  I know it’s not new, but I had never watched it happen before, I’m sold.

This was a great exercise in teamwork and engineering.  I was rather impressed at how the whole project came together in just 25 minutes.  I wasn’t sure when I would do this in my classes, we don’t ever really study mechanical engineering principles.  The same with the basswood bridges they built.  The concepts are great, I love the hands-on, I just wasn’t sure where this would fit in my curriculum.  I decided that I am going to use the Tower of Marsh when we do a short chapter on Center of Gravity.  We can do a small side study of bridge design and then do a team activity building the towers.  I was going to give the kids 40 minutes, the 25 minutes they had seemed to fly by and I have a 55 minute class to fill.  Maybe as an added prize, the winning team would get to have hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.

The attached instruction sheet has been modified for classroom use and includes how it will be scored.  This is in Word 2007 format, you may need a the free converter if you don’t have it yet.

Tower of Marsh


What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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