As Science Laureate at Teaching Channel, one of my roles is to highlight exemplar modules of instruction. In my mind, that means that these units not only have to be aligned to the standards, but also need to be both unique and engaging.
One problem with innovative lessons is that they often involve costly or custom-made components. To help address these issues, the editorial team at Teaching Channel asked me to create a series of videos that show educators how to build different testing mechanisms that I use within my own middle school classroom setting.
Tch DIY: Build & Tch is a new series where I, along with my students, will not only highlight four outstanding modules of instruction, but we'll also provide a step-by-step video on how to construct wind turbine stands, shake tables, an electromagnetic dropping mechanism, as well as an air compressed rocket launcher.
Below is a brief overview of these four units and the videos that will show you how to build these engaging contraptions.
To The Moon
To the Moon has been my most widely discussed video on Tch (also see the related video Using Engineering Design in the Classroom). Throughout this unit, my students apply math and science in their attempts to engineer a construction paper rocket which will hit a target located in the middle of a football field. A lesson plan, a data sheet, a rubric, and a rocket launcher blueprint are also included with the supporting materials accompanying the video.
As you explore the resources, you may also notice that there are a considerable number of comments below the video. While much of the discussion has been about the curriculum, there has also been considerable chatter focused on the rocket launcher itself, as it’s a fairly complex build with numerous individual components.
Additionally, safety is always a concern when dealing with compressed air and students. That's why we've produced a video that shows the step-by-step process of how to build the air compressed rocket launcher from the NASA blueprint in the supporting materials section of the page.
Build a Rocket Launcher
The Science and Innovation Partnership
The Boeing Company, University of Washington, and Teaching Channel have partnered to produce the NGSS-aligned Science and Innovation series, a middle school curriculum for grades 4-8. These 21st-century modules of instruction were crafted by curriculum teams that included classroom educators, Boeing engineers, and research scientists.
- Alternative Energy is a series of lessons that allows students an opportunity to explore energy transformations, forces of flight such as lift and drag, and the art of wind turbine blade design. Chock full of hands-on activities, this unit includes a video overview, a teacher handbook, and a multitude of downloadable student guide sheets. To help support this unit, we've created a Tch DIY video that walks you through how to build the PVC wind turbine testing stand that's utilized throughout the rotor blade challenge.
- Soft Landing is a curriculum that was inspired by the many challenges that engineers face when they try to land a space capsule. Newton’s Laws, electricity, and magnetism are the focal points of the lessons. A teacher handbook, as well as complete lesson plans for the 10-day unit, are included. For additional support, we've created a Tch DIY video that shows my students constructing the electromagnetic dropping device that's featured in the unit.
Build a Shake Table
Build a Shake Table
Shake it Up Baby is a module of instruction that was published by the Dayton Regional STEM Center. Waves, faults, fracking, base isolation systems, and scale are the primary topics addressed throughout the 11 days of instruction. The capstone activity involving a shake table is the culminating event. The wooden shake table, composed of 2x4s, plywood, and rubber bands is highlighted in the DIY video above. This particular unit is just one piece of an extensive PreK-12 STEM catalog that includes over 100 thematic units. I strongly encourage you to check out this wonderful (not to mention free) resource.
While all of the aforementioned STEM units target the middle school grade band, I know for a fact that many of these units have been utilized by both elementary and high school teachers. And even most middle school teachers will modify the lessons to make them fit the needs of their students. That's why I encourage everyone reading this piece to explore the resources and then share your experience with the community.
Do you have feedback or questions about the curricula? Ideas for similar builds? Ideas for future episodes of Tch DIY? Let us know in the comments below.
Tom Jenkins teaches both middle school science and STEM in Enon, Ohio. He is a NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, Teaching Fellow for the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, as well as the Boeing Science Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Tom on Twitter: @TomJenkinsSTEM.