Want your kids to learn a little about materials?
Design Squad Nation, a new series on PBS KIDS GO!, is inviting teams of teens to super-size Design Squad’s hands-on activities for the Design Squad Nation Build Big Contest.
You start with an idea from this Web site. And then you follow the rules on this Web site. The idea is to take a small project that teaches fundamental engineering skills and then produce it on a larger scale. Target age groups are teenagers and “tweens” led by someone above 18 years old. That would be you.
The projects are neat and there are 40 or so to choose from. One challenges you to build a lunar landing craft that protects astronauts from ejecting when dropped from one foot high. The small-scale project uses mini-marshmallows for shock absorbers and regular marshmallows as astronauts. Straws act as landing struts. A paper cup is the cabin. Cardboard and index cards form the structure.
Then you scale it up. How far? Up to you. Any limits on materials or electronics or mechanical devices to be used? I couldn’t find any. The examples are pretty basic, but hey, this is America. Remember when your dad gave you graphite lube for your Pinewood Derby car and the other dads’ jaws dropped when “your” car roared down the track!
After your team conceptualizes a way to execute the project, ask them to think extra hard about materials they will use. One of the materials suggested in the PBS press release is PVC. Does your team want to use PVC, or are they buying in to environmental concerns about the material? Make them think about their choices, and then let them choose. Show them some basic natural rubber options, and then also show them some of the new (and very effective) elastomeric compounds. The housing? Teach them about upcycling.
When you consider how little science kids learn in American schools today, this is a great chance for you to step in and make a difference. This makes science (and engineering) fun-just like play acting Hamlet or Macbeth makes Shakespeare a lot more fun than reading a play in a class.