I just wrapped up my semester for 8th grade engineering, and I would have to say it has been my most successful project-based learning class thus far. Thanks to huge donations from Qualcomm and Motorola, I was able to integrate hands-on science projects using electricity, K’NEX modeling, and bridge building kits. The students were engaged in cooperative design projects that included many technology tools on the web. I wanted to share the different tools we used in all my engineering and technology classes.
Phun – The Phun physics program lets students design objects in 2D and lets gravity act upon the objects when an action button is clicked. The students designed a simple machines track on the program and it was quite the challenge for many of my students. They worked relentlessly redesigning and improving their drawings. My eighth graders learned quickly that sometimes drawings cannot account for the many issues of real gravity applications. Without a doubt, my students learned Newton’s Laws of Motion authentically. Who needs books?
PhET Interactive Simulations – The University of Colorado at Boulder developed interactive electricity simulators that enabled my students to design their own circuits. We primarily used the circuit construction kit which allows you to design any circuits using resistors, batteries, and capacitors. It even has built in ammeters and voltmeters to verify Ohm’s Law. This simple and practical simulator is perfect way to demonstrate electricity before actually building real circuits.
Scratch – This open source object-oriented program language is a perfect introduction to teach mathematical applications of video game design. My students used this software to learn how to program using visual scripts. The community allows you to download scripts from other projects which allowed my students to tinker with code. It was a great example of learning from each other. We also used the following website for “how to” examples: http://learnscratch.org/
Google Sketchup – AutoCad 3D design capabilities for free using Google Sketchup. Mystudents used it for their research design project for engineering. They were required to draw the original invention and redesign it using Sketchup. My favorite had to be the drawing of the future train station depot.
FloorPlanner – The students learned how to use an architects ruler for my engineering class. The students learned how to scale using the ruler. For example, a 3/4 inch scale can equal 100 feet using the ruler. Their first project was to use the ruler to design a house floor plan with specific dimensions. The students used design floor planning website Floorplanner to professionally design their own house. Try it out, it is the real deal.
Creately – This online diagramming and design tool is a powerful engineering tool. It takes the power of Microsoft Visio and made it free and collaborative. My high school interns are currently using it to design a network diagram for the new PC Lab they are building. It has all the icons for network design such as routers, servers, and wires. It takes me back to my old days of network design when I worked for Extreme Networks. There are other collaborative tools similar to Creately such as Dabbleboard, Thinkature, and Twiddla.
Other websites that provided interactive simulations that were used to teach engineering concepts:
- Edheads – Excellent simple machines and design activities.
- Blender – 3D Content Creation Suite
- StarLogo TNG – Modeling and simulation software.
- Gamestar Mechanic – Video game design made simple.
- Alice – Computer programming for kids in a 3D environment.
- Kodu Game Lab – Visual programming for video game design.
- XNA – Community all about game design.
- Digispired – Exploring game design.
- GeoGebra – Multi-platform dynamic mathematics software.
- TeachEngineering – Free resources for K12 Engineering lessons.
- Virtual Frog Dissection – Good practice before real frog dissections.
- eGFI Dream Up the Future – ASEE sponsored website with valuable resources.
- Score Interactive Science – Collection of science simulations
- Nano for Kids – Nanotechnology simulations
- Engineering K12 Center – Engineering resources for K12
When I was in middle school, one of my projects that I had to make in 8th grade science was to build a simple machines track using pulleys, inclined planes, and wedges. I am teaching simple machines to my 8th grade engineering class and not only am I including K’Nex hands-on projects, but integrating Phun software as part of their design process. The Phun physics program lets students design objects in 2D and lets gravity act upon the objects when an action button is clicked. The students are designing a simple machines track on the program and it has stumped many of my students. They are working very hard redesigning and improving their drawings. My eighth graders are learning quickly that sometimes drawings cannot account for the many issues of real gravity applications. Without a doubt, my students are learning Newton’s Laws of Motion authentically. Who needs books?