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.

It's summatime.

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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.
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.

nova-teachers.pngNOVA
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.

NASAlogo2.pngNASA
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.

Animations:

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?

Bienvenidos a Cusmapa

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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.
Animations:
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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The House of DSN

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Take note fashionistas: Design Squad Nation has gone haute couture. The House of Chanel may have some competition.

In the two-part episode A Cut Above, Judy and Adam get chic in the fashion capital of the world: New York City. They meet up with Eduarda and Juan, two up-and-coming designers whose dreams are about to come true.

Fashion designer and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano challenges Juan and Eduarda to showcase their individuality and creativity by reinterpreting a gown from his 2010 collection. Adam and Judy use their engineering know-how to add a little extra somethin' somethin' to Eduarda and Juan's dress designs, and the stakes gets serious when Teen Vogue gets involved.

Watch Part 1 and Part 2 of A Cut Above and read on to find out how you can use it to teach your kids about engineering.





Holy runway drama! Bottom line? Mixing fashion and engineering is like mixing stripes and florals--totally daring but absolutely fabulous (when well-executed, that is). Here's how to use A Cut Above to add an exciting twist to concepts of engineering:

1. Focus on electricity.

Adam helps Juan bring new meaning to bling with their LED-lit dress. Pair the episode with:
  • Hands-on Activity: Dance Pad Mania - Build a dance pad that sounds buzzers and flashes lights. (45 min.)
  • Profile: Computer scientist and Dot Diva: Anamary Leal develops 3-D fashion design software that allows the user to envision what a finished piece will look like.
2. Focus on structures and materials.
Judy and Eduarda use a folding technique to give more structure to their dress's fabric. Pair the episode with:
  • Hands-on Activity: Paper Table - Build a table out of newspaper that can hold a heavy weight. (45 min.) Watch a demo. (1 min.)
  • Video Profile: High-Tech Tents-Connie Yang - Mechanical and design engineer Connie Yang uses unusual materials in her high-tech tent designs for NEMO Equipment. (1 min.)
  • Bonus Episode: Functional Fashion - Design Squad teams compete to design the best dual-purpose clothing. (28 min.)

As Project Runway's Tim Gunn would say: Make it work! Show your kids how to be fashion-forward with engineering.

Read Teen Vogue's Q&As with Eduarda and Juan, check out their behind-the-scenes photos, and comment on this post on Facebook.
Q: What's mobile, green, and engineered in the UK?
A: The Design Squad Nation episode, Garden-to-Go!

In Garden-to-Go, we see how engineers work to help the environment. Adam and Judy help Mariam and Bert, two young members of London-based Global Generation, design and build a pedal-powered mobile garden. It is the ultimate example of sustainable design.



The garden's fruit and "veg," as the Brits say, are grown on the rooftop of a construction site in skips (the British can make even dumpsters sound fancy). The produce is fertilized by food waste and...worm tea. Fancy a spot?

The "hoop cart" delivery system is made from recycled building materials and is entirely human-powered--by a bicycle-built-for-two! As Bert and Mariam deliver super fresh veg to local restaurants, they can also collect food waste to bring back to the skip gardens. This food waste fuels the wormery which fertilizes the garden which...voila... grows more veg. What a glorious example of environmental efficiency! 

Showing Garden-to-Go to your kids is a wonderful way to illustrate how engineers can make a difference. You can pair it with any of these educator resources for a rich, multimedia experience:

  • Show other ways in which engineers work to help the environment with video profiles:
Eco-Electronics - Erin Gately (2 min.)
Build without Borders - Matt Sisul and William Cao (2 min.)
Package Design - Jennifer Chua (2 min.)
Biodiesel Powerboat - Peter Bethune (2 min.)
  • Challenge kids to do a hands-on activity that helps the environment:
Harmless Holder - Invent an animal-friendly holder for six cans. (45 min.) Watch a demo.
Paper Table - Build a sturdy table out of newspaper. (45 min.) Watch a demo.
Feel the Heat
- Build a solar hot water heater. (90-120 min.)

With so many options, it's a veritable buffet for educators. If it were me, I'd try them all... just hold the worm tea, please.

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How do you make a cake the Design Squad Nation way? Mix together sugar, flour, and eggs, then add circuits, motors, and a scary monster to taste.

In the episode, It's Alive, Adam and Judy work with master pastry chef Jorg Amsler to help Jennifer, a young pastry chef, create the cake of her dreams for the cast party of Young Frankenstein: The Musical. It's part delicious, part electric, and part mad scientist.

Cue scary monster!



Show your kids the full episode and they may never look at cake the same way again. A delicious way to mark a special occasion? You bet. An amazing feat of engineering? That's a yes.... at least in this case!

Making the edible Young Frankenstein "come alive" was no easy task. A lot of ingredients went into the mix. A couple of key ones? Circuits and motors. You can use this episode and other resources from our Educators Library to teach your kids all about them. Here's how.

  • Challenge kids to try the hands-on activity, Kick Stick, in which they build a hand-held, motorized device that sends a Ping-Pong ball across the floor. Watch a demo.
  • Make a career connection with the engineer profile, Ice Cream-Pete Gosselin. Pete's a mechanical engineer for Ben and Jerry's. He creates specialized machinery that ensures the perfect balance of Chunky and Monkey. (In other words, he makes my life very, very happy.)
From cake to ice cream, It's Alive may just be the ultimate way to give your kids a taste of engineering.

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It's a big day here at Design Squad Nation. It's the premiere of our first episode, Apache Skateboarders!

Our season of high adventure engineering begins on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona. Adam and Judy team up with Ronnie--a 17-year-old member of the 4 Wheel War Pony skateboarding team--to build a skateboarding street course. Engineered to be modular, durable, and weather-resistant, this is the skate park of Ronnie's dreams.



Totally rad, right? But how can you use this episode as a teaching tool? Why, I'm so glad I asked. Here's the rundown:

Use Apache Skateboarders to teach Force and Energy. Pair it with resources from our online library, especially for educators. Everything you need is here.
  1. Introduce the concepts with the animation How Can Potential Energy Be Used to Do Work? (30 sec.)
  2. Show the Apache Skateboarders episode (26 min.)
  3. Challenge kids to explore energy, hands-on, by building a Rubber Band Car. (45 min.)
  4. Make career connections with video profiles of engineers in related fields. Show Roller Coaster-Chris Gray and Snowboards-Chris Fidler and Scott Keller.
And there you have it. Now, go get those kids stoked on engineering!

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Empire state of mind

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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.

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