April 6, 2021


Tch Laureate Team

I’m watching as my students attempt to create an object using only cubes and tetrahedrons that will roll down a ramp in the least amount of time. It’s an engineering design challenge that was inspired by Curiosity Machine’s “Build a 3-D Object out of Tetrahedra.” (You’ll be prompted to log in to see this challenge, or you can create a free account here or by clicking the Join button from the former link.)

Rolling tetrahedron down an incline

On the surface, it may seem like a very simple task, but there are actually quite a few STEM content areas that we’re exploring over the course of our four-day unit:

  • Newton’s Laws of Motion
  • Gravity
  • Potential Energy
  • Kinetic Energy
  • Speed
  • Geometry
  • Symmetry
  • Ratios

Not to mention the fact that my students are utilizing scientific and engineering practices. They’re constantly collaborating, working within constraints, collecting and making sense of data, as well as using the iterative design process to help them accomplish their objective.

Watching this unfold, and witnessing the incredible amount of student growth and engagement, I wonder how I ever could have been a PowerPoint/Scantron type of teacher. Of course, I’ve always included laboratory experiences in my lesson plans, but they were often cookie-cutter and predictable. Today, the types of units that I share with my students are different. They’re almost always comprised of lessons that engage them as active participants in the learning process. Additional “buy in” occurs when I make an overt career connection.

In this lesson, we’re focusing on modeling and simulation, which in turn generates a whole class discussion about the world of Minecraft. Then, I sprinkle in a healthy dose of competition. Our class leaderboard tracks the students who are the most successful at the engineering design challenges over the course of the semester, and we’re off to the races!

While many of you have your own favorite resources, I’m often asked where I go to find high quality curriculum that also contains a capstone project in the form of an engineering design challenge. I would suggest starting with the 10 middle school units created by Tch educators and engineers from The Boeing Company (the images below are of students showing off their Wind Turbine, the result of my implementing the Exploring Alternative Forms of Energy unit), or the 140+ PreK-12 units created by the Dayton Regional STEM Center. There’s an absolutely wonderful library of content between these two resources.

students displaying their wind turbine
students displaying their wind turbine

What these resources encourage is the development, through the Engineering Design Process, of iterative, working prototypes, from wind turbines to gliders, from mini satellites to bio suits. And what better way to celebrate these student-designed and student-made artifacts than visually. To that end, we at Teaching Channel are encouraging teachers to post pictures and short videos of their students’ work to Instagram, using the #TchFutureEngineers hashtag. Make sure to include @TeachingChannel in your post so we can reshare! Let’s show the world what’s possible when we unleash the creativity and imagination of our young engineers-to-be!

I’m going to do the same so that I can share my students’ efforts with other like-minded educators. AND we want you to do the same! So get ready to highlight the work of your #TchFutureEngineers!

I’m looking forward to seeing your students’ builds on Instagram. And thanks for sharing with the community!


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