Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Not-So-Geek Squad

With 3 kids of various ages, it’s pretty difficult to find a TV show that’s both age-appropriate and entertaining for them all. Terrific, then, that one day we happened to stumble upon Design Squad, a Peabody Award-winning reality competition series on PBS where teen contestants tackle engineering challenges for an actual client. My kids were all immediately engrossed in the show: the squabbling stopped, quiet ensued, and I avoided a date with some Extra-Strength Tylenol. Bliss! Design Squad’s mission is to attract kids to engineering and inventing, and to this end has created a host of science activities, teacher’s guides, and other resources to help students flex their design process skills while learning science and engineering concepts. Materials are available in both English and Spanish.

Subjects: Engineering, Physical Sciences
Age: 9-12

Think you can build an unsinkable boat out of straws and plastic wrap? While you’re at it, make it hold 25 pennies for at least 10 seconds before sinking. That’s right – it’s not as easy as it sounds. This activity has students test various boat designs while learning about buoyancy, weight distribution, and displacement. I like that this activity is completely hands-on, and that kids need to use various problem-solving methods in order to come up with designs that enable them to float their boats effectively.

Kicking Machine
Subjects: Engineering, Physical Sciences
Age: 9-12

In this activity, students design and build two machines that can reliably kick balls across the room. What I like about this activity is that kids have to think about different types of energy – potential energy, stored energy, kinetic energy - and what types of design (pendulum or rubber band-launching systems) that will give them the most bang for their buck. Bonus points if they can get the machine to bend it like Beckham. I also love the comprehensiveness of the Design Squad guides and leader notes. For one thing, they anticipate problems that some students may experience due to design mistakes or other matters, and provide solutions to help kids get back on course.

Feel the Heat
Subjects: Engineering, Physical Sciences, Space sciences
Age: Grades 9-12

The heat is on! This challenge, part of a Design Squad-NASA on the Moon guide, has students heat things up by building a solar hot water heater. The activity also asks kids to think about how NASA might use solar-powered heating on the moon. What’s cool about this resource is how chock-full of information it is without droning on and on. Aside from the instructions on how to design and build the water heaters, the activity includes safety tips, extension activities, fun little factoids, discussion aids, and a whole lot more.

~Joann's Picks~

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