Parents, Educators & Engineers

Dream It. Build It. Teach It!

Get kids excited about engineering.

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It's summatime.

Summer can never seem to come soon enough--for pretty much all of us, it seems, but for kids especially. So let's take a moment to rejoice, because hallelujah, summer's here! But just because your kids are out of school, it doesn't mean the learning has to stop. Here are a few ways to slip some STEM into your barbeques, beach days, and road trips!

Still hungry for more? Battle your kids' complaints of boredom with THIS SUPER-SIZED CHALLENGE with super-sized prizes: Build Big (and win!)

Some content courtesy of Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, Time to Invent, and eGFI.
Not many kids get to see their ideas for new inventions become reality, but Lilly, MaryAnn, and Daniel are exceptions. As winners of our 2010 Trash to Treasure competition, they worked with professional engineers at Continuum, a global innovation and design consultancy, to turn their ideas into real working products. And oh, what cool ideas they are.

Thumbnail image for Lilly-t2t.pngAfter seeing a dunking booth at a fair, Lilly thought of making one for her own backyard parties, and came up with the idea of the Sibling Soaker: a device that breaks a water balloon over someone's head (preferably a sibling, it seems). "Throw, hit target, break water balloon, douse annoying sisters!!"

daniel-t2t.pngDaniel designed the MiBike: an all-weather bicycle. His inspiration? Too many walks to school in the rain. "You ride it like a bike, but you have side mirrors, a roof (to block the rain/snow) and a storage compartment for all your books, pencils, backpacks, etc."

maryann-t2t.pngMaryAnn's Smarter Toilet conserves water with every flush. Based on the idea of putting a brick in your toilet tank to save water, the Smarter Toilet uses a bottle and plunger design that allows control over how much water is flushed. "My invention will save millions of gallons of water. More then 40 percent of daily water requirements are used by toilets." (Because of her Smarter Toilet, MaryAnn received an invitation to the White House Science Fair and shook hands with POTUS himself!)
Oh, and another bonus for winning? Lilly, Daniel, and MaryAnn starred in the season finale of Design Squad Nation in the aptly-named episode, Trash to Treasure.

Inspire your kids to be inventors, too. Show them the Trash to Treasure episode and use it as a jumping off point to challenge them to think about how they can improve the world.

Check out the Invent It, Build It Guide for six invention-themed hands-on challenges, and encourage your kids to get active in the Projects section of the DSN website where they can make wishes for new inventions, sketch ideas, and post photos of prototypes they build.

Want to give your kids a chance to show their stuff to the world like Lilly, MaryAnn, and Daniel did? Encourage them to participate in this year's DSN contest and BUILD BIG! 
And so I ask you, dear readers, to ponder this: What's the greatest invention of all time?

Ever wish you could fly? Thanks to Red Bull's Flugtag competition, you can try.

German for "flying day," Flugtag gives everyday people a chance to achieve flight by challenging them to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot high deck--into the water below it. And that's just what Adam and Judy did with the help of Felipe, a 15-year-old pilot in Miami, in the two-part episode One Giant Leap.

The aircraft (and I use that term loosely) are judged not only on distance, but on creativity and showmanship as well. Think flying hamburgers, muscle-bound torsos, cakes, wrestlers, trailer parks, and clowns in fire trucks. No, really.

Our gang teamed up with NASA to build a glider-inspired design that made an impressive showing in distance and style in front of a crowd of 85,000. Want to find out how we did? Check out Part 1 for the build and Part 2 for the competition. Seeing really is believing.

This episode packs a punch with the cool, creative, and fun side of engineering. You can also use it to teach engineering concepts related to space and flight--like buoyancy and air resistance. Take advantage of these resources from the Educators Library:

Hands-on Activities:
  • Sky Floater: Make a helium-filled balloon hover in one spot, then move it around the room without touching it.
  • Sky Glider: Use two helium-filled balloons to build a blimp that can travel in a straight path across the room.
  • Blimp Jet: Add a jet-propulsion system to a Sky Glider blimp so it flies under its own power.
  • Touchdown: Build a spacecraft with a shock absorber that will protect marshmallow astronauts when they land. Watch a demo.


Video Shorts:
Engineer Profiles:
  • Blimps - Mark Caylao
: Meet an engineer who maintains and operates some of the world's largest blimps--for everyone from presidential candidates to the military--for things like research surveillance, and security.
  • NASA Toilet - Evan Thomas: Meet an engineer who designs water recovery and purification systems for NASA astronauts in space, and then applies similar principles in Rwanda as a volunteer for Engineers Without Borders.
  • GigaPan Camera - Leila Hasan: This engineer combines creativity with technology as the lead engineer for the GigaPan, a robotic device that takes high-resolution panoramic images.
Bonus Episode:
  • Band Cam: Teams use balloons to build flying video cameras.

Engineering in the form of flying rubber duckies, smart phones, and pretty much anything else you can dream up... I've seriously got to get myself to Flugtag next year.

If you're feeling inspired to build something giant with your kids (without the 30-foot-high launch), don't miss our BUILD BIG contest. No flight, or swim, required.

What design would you like to see entered in next year's Flugtag competition?

BUILD BIG... and win!

BuildBig.pngDesign Squad Nation has launched a new contest! It's a great fit for kids in classrooms, clubs, and after school programs.

We're asking kids to think big. Ginormous, actually! Here's the scoop...

Kids should:
  1. Form a team (with a team leader over the age of 18).
  2. Choose any activity from the Design Squad Nation web site. (There are a ton!)
  3. Build a big version of it. (Make it large and in charge!)
  4. Upload a video of the working design to YouTube. (Go viral, baby!)
The winning team will receive a super cool Flip Cam and have its project featured on the DSN web site!

This is the big time, people. Go big or go home! (Not really, that was just for dramatic effect. You'll still be welcome here either way.)

Read more about the contest HERE.

Really, we did! And this just might be the most exciting thing to happen around here since we got our own category on Teen Jeopardy! Naturally, I just couldn't wait to blog about it.

MaryAnn, one of three Grand Prize winners of our 2010 Trash to Treasure Competition, was invited to bring her water-conserving "Smarter Toiler" to the White House Science Fair. The event celebrated the winners of STEM competitions from around the country.

MaryAnn met all kinds of cool, interesting, and important people--including President Obama! She shook his hand and even got his signature on her school excuse note. Now that's some clever thinkin', MaryAnn.

Here, she gives Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute, a closer look at the Smarter Toilet.

Do your kids participate in science and engineering competitions? Although their inventions may not end up in the East Wing of the White House, their experiences can be just as rewarding. They'll be challenged to make personal connections to their work--outside of the classroom--and just might see that they really can make a difference in the world.

So look for opportunities to get your kids involved. You never know where they may take them!