"What's an engineer? Crash Course Kids #12.1" (youtube video)
What You Need: Options include K’nex or other building sets, rubber bands, Popsicle sticks, toilet paper tubes
NGSS Standards: MS-ETS1-1; MS-ETS1-2; MS-ETS1-3
Best For Grades: 6–8
What To Do: Define catapult for students, and explain that they will create their catapults individually or in teams. Give them time to work through the design process. Establish ground rules, such as never pointing their device at another student and testing it only in a designated area. End with a shoot-out competition for distance, accuracy, or speed. Rendina, who developed this idea with Denton, Texas, teacher-librarian Colleen Graves, shows what students created online.
What You Need: Recycled materials, toys, marbles, balls, dominoes, various classroom objects
NGSS Standards: MS-ETS1-1; MS-ETS1-2; MS-ETS1-3; MS-ETS1-4
Best For Grades: K–8
What To Do: Let students immerse themselves in everything they can find out about inventor Rube Goldberg and his machines. (Watch this example for fun ideas.) Each student designs a machine on paper. Then, have kids form teams so they can compare notes and create a single team design: a machine that pops a balloon, traps a Lego figure, and so forth. Over several days, students build their machines and then share them with the class, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, says Angela Rosheim, teacher-librarian at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Liberty, Missouri. (See Cool Teachers, Fall 2015.) “Students are thrilled at the opportunity to just be creative.”
What You Need: Scrap paper, scissors, rulers, pencils, books to use as a weight
NGSS Standards: 3-5-ETS1-1; 3-5-ETS1-2; 3-5-ETS1-3
Best For Grades: 3–5
What To Do: Divide students into teams, and tell them that each team must figure out a way that paper can support a book or other weighty object a minimum of one inch above the table or floor for at least a minute. Ask students if this is possible, and when they say no, cut a piece of paper into one-inch strips and fold the strips in half. Will enough of these support a book, or even a stack of books? Encourage students to experiment. (Hint: Winding the strips into curlicues by wrapping them around a pencil, then distributing them evenly beneath the book just might work, says project developer Dave Zirkle.) See a few examples at thislink.
What You Need: Cardboard of all kinds (scraps, cartons, corrugated pieces, paper towel tubes); duct tape in different colors; scissors; rulers and tape measures; pens and pencils; butcher paper or recycled printer paper; decorative items, such as fabric; markers; paper cups; foam pipe insulation; hot glue
NGSS Standards: 3-5-ETS1-2; 3-5-ETS1-3
Best For Grades: 3–8
What To Do: Ask teams of two to four students to look at furniture from various angles, and notice the different shapes (triangles, rectangles, squares, etc.) that make up furniture. Have students brainstorm designs, whether for real furniture, like a table, or for something fanciful. Let them handle and put materials together in different ways informally, then sketch their designs on paper. Then, they’re ready to make their creations. Find out more from the Maker Education Initiative and the Girl Scouts here.
What You Need: Household items (varies with project)
NGSS Standards: 3-5-ETS1-1; 3-5-ETS1-2; 3-5-ETS1-3
Best For Grades: 3 and up
What To Do: Students identify a problem in their own lives that could be solved with a new product. (Show Kickstarter videos about inventions for inspiration.) After students brainstorm ideas individually or in teams, they interview potential adult users of their product. Is the idea appealing? Would the design be easy to use? Building the invention comes next, although Potts says it’s not necessary for the invention to actually work; it only needs to show what the students have in mind. Inventions from Potts’s students at Fieldston include shoes for a dog that would mop the floor as the dog walks, an “alarm” pillow that vibrates, and a shovel with a heated tip to remove ice.
What You Need: Cardboard, paper, plastic containers, recycled materials, craft supplies, wood, hand tools, brads
NGSS Standards: K–2 ETS1–3 Engineering Design
Best For Grades: K–8
What To Do: Stephanie Passman, a gifted resource teacher at Stony Point Elementary in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided to see what problems would arise naturally when she and her co-teachers assigned students to make something related to a book they were reading. Kids created a plan with pictures and words, and then started building. “One student decided to make an octopus to represent her book, and went through many iterations using different materials,” says Passman. “She was the one who decided it was a problem, so she wanted to solve it. Because there is personal meaning in their making, they are driven to solve the problems.”
What You Need: Copper tape (conductive on both sides), LED 3- or 5-MM lights, construction paper, CR2032 coin-cell batteries, glue stick, tape, markers, scissors, stencils
NGSS Standards: 3-5-ETS1-2; PS4.B
Best For Grades: 3–5
What To Do: Students love the idea of making pop-up cards that light up. There are two stages to this project: fashioning the pop-up element of the card (stencils can be helpful in creating the design) and developing a circuit to produce the light. The design can be anything from an animal to a skyscraper to a robot. Students place a small LED light anywhere on the card and use copper tape to complete the circuit to a battery. Full directions can be found online here.
What You Need: Duct tape, gummy bears, skewers, set of clamps
NGSS Standards: 4-PS4-1; 4-PS4-3; PS4.A: Wave Properties
Best For Grades: 4–6
What To Do: This is a favorite for Meredith Martin, a STEM teacher for Mantua Township Schools in Gloucester County, New Jersey. First, use clamps to tautly attach the ends of a long strip of duct tape, sticky side up, to the ends of two tables. Center skewers equally across the tape (about five centimeters apart) with the pointed ends sticking over each side. Stick gummies on the ends of the skewers. Gently tap one end of the tape (or a skewer) to start the wave. What happens when the wave reaches the end? “When we started the wave machine, students said, ‘Oh, now I get it!’” says Martin. See a wave machine video.
What You Need: Makey Makey kit, foil, conductive objects (anything with metal or copper)
NGSS Standards: 3-PS2-3; 4-PS3-2
Best For Grades: 5–8
What To Do: If you’re ready for a more advanced project, this one from Texas teacher-librarian Colleen Graves has students creating a game on Scratch (a free programming resource from MIT Media Lab) and designing a game controller with Makey Makey. Students use an everyday object that is conductive—like a marshmallow!—as the controller to guide a cat through a maze, a ship through space, or a ball through flaming obstacles. Graves encourages teachers to jump right in. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing is how inventors learn. And don’t wait until you know how to do something before trying it with the kids. Learn alongside them!” (Find detailed, day-by-day lesson plans on their website.)
A Year's Worth Of STEM Projects:
Why makerspace? Many of the jobs students will have don't even exist yet. These jobs will use technologies that haven't been invented to find solutions for problems that haven't emerged.
Makerspaces promote learning through play, using tools to produce innovative products for solutions to problems that have not emerged yet.
They are a space for creation, not just consumption.
Tinker, Dream, Create, Fail, Back up, Try again!
Awesome STEAM stuff: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/awesome-steam-stuff
iPad apps: Crazy Gears, Curious George Train Adventure
PBS Shows: Cyberchase, Odd Squad, Design Squad
Create stories, games, and animations: https://scratch.mit.edu/
Smaller Scale Maker Education Projects
Do you want to get into Making and Maker Ed but don’t know where to start? No problem! Here are nine class-tested, teacher-approved ideas, which can be built using a few tools for K–8 students.
Towers of Power
A great starting point for a beginning Maker teacher, this “Towers of Power” activity allows students to build towers out of paper and Scotch tape. Students can build the tallest tower with an unlimited amount of materials, constrain themselves to limited materials or introduce new materials, such as straws and paper clips. You can crush the towers with textbooks. Find out which tower holds up the most weight. This group activity can help students with teamwork, leadership and planning skills. Best of all, variations on this theme are endless — and the materials can be found in any school office.
This catapult activity is one of my favorite projects to use to introduce engineering principles, motion and fun. The catapult allows students to chase down the best launching angle and the ratio between power and arm length, as well as discuss projectile motion, gravity, physics laws and a whole host of other things. Plus, every student likes trying to smash something apart with a teacher’s permission. Little hands might pinch themselves handling the strong lever, so it’s good practice to disengage the spring for students while they make their catapults.
A great way to get into making is to give you and your students a few hours to explore the Making design process. Design challenges are a great way to get this done. Set a hard time limit, test the devices, go back and reflect the next day.
Here are a few of my favorite prompts:
Bridge to Nowhere
Design a bridge to span a foot-long gap and hold as much weight as possible. An extension could be to build a cantilever — a bridge with only one footing. Use a set amount of craft sticks or materials in order to encourage creativity in solutions.
Float the Boat
Design a boat that can hold the most cargo, move through the water the fastest or has the most efficient weight to cargo ratio. Find the best shape for sails, design the fastest hull and find the balance point.
Throwing eggs off something high always gets kids motivated. It’s a great way to discuss momentum and illustrate why you should always wear your seat belt.
If a teacher offers a student the opportunity to make something joyfully noisy, they usually take it. Homemade instruments come in all different sizes and types — from wood drums to coffee can shakers, to wind chimes to xylophones, it just takes a little Google search to find great ideas.
PLAY WITH LIGHT
Once you—the teacher—get your “sea legs” for facilitating Maker projects, why not expand your skills? By now you’ve seen what you can do and what your kids can do. You’ve probably worked out how to efficiently manage the classroom and supplies, and document learning. Kick it up a level and unlock some achievements using electricity. Read more below for fun activities using electricity.
Electromagnets illustrate the connection between electricity and magnetism. In real life, electromagnets are the cornerstone of many common electrical devices, such as door bells, burglar alarms, car doors and electric motors. Students can fiddle with them to create small toys that can pick up ferrous objects.
Squishy circuits solve one of the biggest conundrums with younger Makers: how to build with real electronic components when the young hands have yet to develop the fine motor skills to connect relatively small parts together via grown up tools? Try using play dough! Take a piece of flour and a small collection of electronic parts (which you can find online at a low cost.)
MakeyMakey Controller Boards
Once the students have made a few electronic circuits, they might ask for something a bit more complicated. Give them a programmable microcontroller board, which they can use to play a banana piano, design a custom video game controller or create a dance floor that can play different songs with each tile. MakeyMakey can make it happen.
While tinkering can lead to learning, remember that makerspace programming can also support classroom curriculum. Here are some ideas for incorporating making in the classroom: