Parents, Educators & Engineers

Dream It. Build It. Teach It!

Get kids excited about engineering.

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.
How many beatboxing engineers do you know? At least one, now.

Watch Design Squad Host, Nate Ball, give us a small taste of his tremendous talent as he beatboxes The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Please note: Regifting is totally acceptable.

Thumbnail image for hero-deysids.jpgFour years ago when Deysi Melgar landed a spot on the cast of Design Squad, she was an aspiring actress and dancer--she wanted to be a Broadway star. This spring, she'll graduate from college with a degree in physics and plans to pursue a graduate degree . . . in aerospace engineering. Now, Deysi wants to build planes.

Deysi never considered a career in STEM until her work on Design Squad.

Deysi came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was seven years old. She liked learning about how things work and developed a love for math in elementary school. She also loved acting, singing and dancing, and chose to attend a high school for performing arts. Deysi enjoyed the spotlight, but she was also drawn to the technical side of theater where she could build things--like set design and lighting. When she learned about Design Squad, she realized that her passions for math and theater could be channeled into engineering.

Deysi got the part. While on thedeysiengineersgate.png show, she experienced engineering first-hand and found out how dynamic and multifaceted it can be--collaborating with interesting and talented people, being creative, solving problems, and making a difference in people's lives.

Now at Wheaton College, Deysi is studying physics--which has helped fuel her long-time interest in planes. She's also working on an independent study project learning how to build a laser! She wants to make holograms with it, of course.

Deysi.jpgLast month, Deysi was asked to give the keynote speech at Invent It. Build It., an event at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) National Conference in Chicago. The goal of the event was to inspire girls to consider engineering as a career. I think they chose the right person to give the podium.

Deysi credits Design Squad with opening her eyes to engineering as a career and showing her a way to unite her many passions.

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.
Let's start with the figures: $120,000, $105,000, $98,000.

If the appeal of improving lives, being creative, making a difference, and changing the world is lost on your kids, why not get them thinking about careers in engineering by talking cold hard cash.

Here are the top top ten college majors with the highest median earnings per year:

  • Petroleum engineering: $120,000
  • Pharmacy sciences and administration: $105,000
  • Mathematics and computer science: $98,000
  • Aerospace engineering: $87,000
  • Chemical engineering: $86,000
  • Electrical engineering: $85,000
  • Naval architecture and marine engineering: $82,000
  • Mechanical engineering: $80,000
  • Metallurgical engineering: $80,000
  • Mining and mineral engineering: $80,000
Would ya look at at that?

For more, check out the source of this list at Change the Equation. And woo your kids with videos of engineers doing cool things here (click on the Resource Topics, then look for the Video Profiles tab.)
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?
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!)

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.