Parents, Educators & Engineers

Dream It. Build It. Teach It!

Get kids excited about engineering.

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Michael Buist uses Design Squad Nation activities to tell a story.

When mapping out a curriculum for the upcoming school year, the Chandler, Arizona teacher and his colleagues look for ways to integrate the arts into their K-5 STEM philosophy. They create broad themes to guide the teaching and identify resources with cross-subject connections to support them.

This year, Michael's 5th grade students spent a semester focusing on physics and the human body. The theme? "The Bionic Human: Extending the Range of Human Ability." To help tell this story, Michael gave his students the Convenient Carrier challenge: To design and build a way for someone using crutches or a wheelchair to carry all their stuff.

TracyOconnor.pngMichael wanted to make sure his students felt the impact of the challenge. To make the experience even more powerful, he gave them a client: Tracy O'Connor, Miss Wheelchair America 2000. "Building to build something is great, but it's not as powerful as building something for someone," says Michael. Tracy spent time with the students and spoke frankly about the accident that put her in a wheel chair. She shared the challenges she's faced and the ways in which she's found success.

ConvenientCarrier1.pngOver the span of three days, Michael's students worked through the engineering design process. They began by asking questions of Tracy to determine how their designs could best help someone with the physical limitations of being in a wheelchair. In teams, they brainstormed and sketched designs, creating "blueprints" of their best ideas. The next day, the blueprints became prototypes as each team built and tested their Convenient Carriers, redesigning, and retesting until they had prototypes they were proud of. On the final day, each team presented their prototype to the client, Tracy, who chose the winning design.

ConvenientCarrier2.png"Convenient Carrier allowed my students to connect not only engineering concepts, but physical and life science concepts as well. It provided them with a background to simple machines, but also gave them an awareness of body mechanics and the physical limitations some people experience." --Michael Buist

Michael's students spent the other semester focusing on space:"To Infinity and Beyond: Exploring Size and Scale in Our Solar System." They boldly went where no 5th grade classroom had gone before, and took on FOUR Design Squad Nation challenges: On Target, Touchdown, Sky Floater, and Roving on the Moon. See more of Michael's classroom work.

Engineers Week 2012

Now THAT was a good party!  With nearly 10,000 kids and parents in attendance, Discover Engineering Family Day at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. was a truly awesome event. Kids explored the world of engineering in all kinds of fun ways (i.e., slime, gumdrops, popcorn, and LEGOs, just to name a few). Then there was the dancing . . .

Design Squad Nation's multi-talented hosts, Nate and Deysi, spread the engineering love while gettin' down on the dance floor. (And no performance is complete without Nate droppin' beats. He's so good he's in the American Beatbox Championships!) Every hour, Nate and Deysi put on a rockin' dance show using motion-activated pads and sensors that triggered sounds and lights--with every slammin' move! We're talking serious moves, too. These guys caught major air!

Kids had a chance to explore circuits by checking out our Dance Pad Mania and Electric Highway activities, and got hands-on, WAY ON, when they sent Ping-Pong balls flying in Pop Fly. (Thanks IEEE and NSPE!)

dance6.bmpdance15.bmpSee more photos and video from Discover Engineering Family Day 2012 on Facebook.
Earth Day is April 22, so raise the (solar-paneled) roof and celebrate! Get your kids pumped about the planet--and engineering--with resources from these cool sites:

eGFI_logo.gifAmerican Society for Engineering Education
Check out the eGFI Teacher Blog for a list of Earth Day activities, lessons, and resources.

EYL.pngEngineer Your Life
Meet engineers Daniele Lantagne and Tanya Martinez. Daniele makes drinking water safe and Tanya helps communities access renewable energy sources.

Explore the NOVA Teachers site to learn about eight of the latest solar technologies, see inside a solar cell, find out how to capture carbon, and more.

See how NASA studies Earth from space and enter NASA's Earth Day video contest!

The Greens guide_cover.gifThe Greens
Encourage kids to take action and make green living a part of their lives. Download an activity guide with six activities ideal for after school programs.

Earth Day Network.pngEarth Day Network
Discover the Earth Day Educator's Network for standards-based lessons, school greening tips, grants for teachers and more.

TeachersDomain_72dpi.jpgTeachers' Domain
Examine environmental health issues with classroom-ready resources in TD's Environmental Public Health (EPH) collection.

ASCEville.bmpAmerican Society of Civil Engineers
Take a trip to ASCEville to see how civil engineers make cities sustainable.

DS Nation Blue Logo.jpgDesign Squad Nation
Check out the Green resources in our Educators Library and don't miss the new 8-minute webisode Sustainable South Bronx. Judy and Adam help a South Bronx student build an air pollution monitoring device. Watch Part 1 and Part 2 now!

What do you do with your kids to recognize the importance of Earth Day?
(Leave a comment, we're all ears!)

Bienvenidos a Cusmapa

San José de Cusmapa is a small, rural town in northern Nicaragua. It is surrounded by mountains and trees and is known for its breathtaking views. Cusmapa is home to a vibrant and close-knit community, dedicated to the future of its youth despite its limited resources. The children of Cusmapa are proud of their town, but dream of having a dedicated space in which to play. In DIY Playground, Adam and Judy work with the children of Cusmapa to build the playground of their dreams.

With help from the Fabretto Children's Foundation and volunteers from RoadMonkey Adventure Philanthropy, the entire community pitches in to build Cusmapa a playground, based on the children's own designs.

Can somebody say zip line?

This episode warms the heart, but it's more than just a touching story of community and teamwork. It's a great example of how engineers make a difference in the world, and how what they create can improve our lives.

You can use DIY Playground to teach your kids engineering concepts (like force, energyfriction, gravity, materials, and more).  Pair it with these resources from our Educators Library:

Hands-on activities:
  • Zip Line: Design a way to get a Ping-Pong ball from the top to the bottom of a zip line string. Watch a demo.
  • On Target: Modify a paper cup so it can zip down a line and drop a marble on a target.
  • Get Moving Game: Invent a game that gets everyone up and moving.
Video shorts:
Engineer profiles:
Bonus episode:
  • Backyard Thrill Ride: Design Squad teams bring the adrenaline rush of an amusement park ride to a 13-year-old's backyard.

In San José de Cusmapa, dreams really do come true. Encourage your kids to dream it, build it, live it, too.

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Empire state of mind


It may be the birthplace of hip hop and the epicenter of Yankees baseball, but on January 14, 2011, the Bronx was home to something even more monumental: the official debut of our giant Pop Fly.

Okay, so maybe that comparison is a wee bit... grandiose. Maybe we won't be making it into Wikipedia under the entry for "The Bronx." But our weekend of events in NYC was a pretty big HUGE deal for us at Design Squad Nation!  

The Madison Square Boys & Girls Club couldn't have been a better place to kick off our giant Pop Fly's coast-to-coast tour. (DC and Cali, you're next!) Judy and Adam led 100 kids in the after school program through the table-top version of Pop Fly, then knocked their kid socks off with THIS maneuver. Is this an NBA halftime show in the making or what?

On the following day, we set up shop in Queens at the New York Hall of Science for Family Day. Twelve hundred kids and parents filled the museum for hands-on activities galore--Pop Fly! Kinetic Sculpture! Paper Table! Launch It! This time, Adam and Judy used the giant Pop Fly to catapult a volleyball into the crowd and this time, like last, the kids went wild!

Our weekend in New York was truly a thrill and we once again felt the magic as kids went bananas for engineering. The famous New York hip hop artist, Jay-Z, was onto something in his song, Empire State of Mind: Now you're in New York / These streets will make you feel brand new / Big lights will inspire you / Let's hear it for New York...

Consider us officially inspired. So thank you, Queens and The Bronx: Home of hip hop, the Yankees, and maybe even a few future engineers, too.

Check out event photos and comment on this blog post on Facebook.

Future engineers.


judyandgirl2.pngThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kickstick.pngWhat do you get when you put 200 teenage girls in a room with 60 female engineers, and add a few of our hands-on engineering challenges?

Future engineers.

This past November, Design Squad Nation partnered with the Society of Women Engineers and Girl Scouts of the USA to host an event in Orlando, Florida called Invent It. Build It. The goal was to give girls an opportunity to learn more about the engineering profession.

Judy Lee gave a rousing keynote speech and challenged the girls to get their engineer on with Pop Fly, Kick Stick, and Electric Gamebox. SWE's professional and collegiate members were on hand to advise when needed and share stories and experiences from their work.

The match-up was a huge success! The girls worked side by side with talented female engineers, asked them questions, and learned about different kinds of engineering jobs. At the end of the day, there were wild cheers for the great project designs created, but the excitement ran deeper than that. The girls' perceptions of engineering actually changed and we saw just how powerful the mentor/mentee relationship can be.

You can cultivate the same experience for your kids and it doesn't have to be at a large-scale event. Reach out to engineering firms, universities, and organizations in your community to find volunteer mentors. Give your kids a chance to become future engineers, too.

See more event photos and comment on this post on Facebook.


With the launch of Design Squad Nation, our blog is up and running!

We're here to build a community and we're excited to offer you this space to find resources, share ideas, and engage with us. We want to get kids excited about engineering and we want you to, too.

So stay tuned, spread the word, and visit often. Educators, this blog's for you!