Name of Unit Detective Engineer: Intro to Different Types of Engineering
Author(s) Hannah Garfield and Kirsten Jorgensen
School Vinson Owen
Teacher Jill Papaps
Brief Description Students are introduced to a variety of types of engineering through the lens of a robbery in the Museum of Science. Each week the students will be investigating solutions to different problems that arose from the robbery. Each problem will need to be solved using the expertise from a specific field of engineering. This will all build up to a final project connecting all the different types of engineering investigated with an activity on how to prevent this from happening again.
Grade(s) 5 (but could be adapted for any grade)
Keywords Intro to Engineering, Introduction, Detective, Robbery, Security
Number of Weeks 9
Week 1 Intro to thinking about engineering, testing, and redesign – spaghetti towers
Week 2 See activity 1- Electrical Engineering
Week 3 See activity 2 – Civil Engineering
Week 4 See activity 3 – Environmental Engineering
Week 5 See activity 4 – Mechanical Engineering
Week 6 Continue to work on activity 4
Week 7 See activity 5 – Solving the Mystery
Week 8 Final project: Talk to the students about security and preventing a break-in like this one. Have students brainstorm how they could use engineering solutions to prevent a break-in. Split students up into 3 large groups depending on their interest: Civil, Mechanical, or Electrical engineering (you may want to ask your teacher for help dividing kids because they may go where their friends go instead of where they are actually interested). Talk a little about the importance of group work and how to make a group function (listening and being polite!). Have each group brainstorm ideas about how they could make some sort of security system using the type of engineering they chose. Tell the groups their materials: – civil: Popsicle sticks, masking tape, string, rubber bands, toothpicks – mechanical: legos/gears, string (same as simple machines unit) – electrical: snap circuit kits After the students have a plan let them start building.
Week 9 Continue to work on final project, have kids present and test their projects at the end of class.

One Response to Detective Engineer: Intro to Different Types of Engineering – Garfield + Jorgensen

  1. Nazifa Sarawat and I used this unit as a starting point for our curriculum for fall 2015 in Mr. Lydon’s 5th grade classroom at Josiah Quincy Elementary. We chose our mystery to be a break-in at the Museum of Science in which their massive Van Der Graaff Generator was stolen. We then did the above activities in a slightly different order, trying to emphasize different steps in the engineering design process each week.

    Week 1 and 2: We started with the civil/structural engineering activity, which we spread over two weeks. The first week was spent testing various materials and discussing their properties. The second week, we built small-scale bridges to traverse the chasm left when the thief made off with the generator. (See activity page for more comments)

    Week 3 and 4: Next we covered electrical engineering, in context of lighting up the dark chasm where the generator was, in order to better investigate the scene of the crime. We started simple with a human electron activity and squishy play-doh circuits, and the next week moved up to snap circuits and more complex challenges. (See activity page for more comments)

    Week 5 and 6: These two lessons were spent on simple machines as an introduction to mechanical engineering. Instead of using NXT, we brought assorted materials and tasked students to use their prior knowledge about simple machines to reverse-engineer how the thief was able to steal the generator. (See activity page for more comments)

    Week 7: We spent one week on paper chromatography to introduce chemical engineering. This technique was used to determine which of the suspects was the perpetrator. Refer to the link below for more information.

    Week 8 and 9: Water filtration was the topic for our introduction to environmental engineering. In our story, the individual who stole the generator did so because they were upset about the environmental impact of the museum and its customers on the nearby Charles River. The students designed, constructed, and tested water filters to clean up the river, in hopes that this would convince the thief to return the generator to the museum. (See activity page for comments)

    We did not include the final project on security and preventing break-ins, or the solving the mystery activity.

    Overall, the unit was successful. Having the overarching topic for the semester helped keep the students engaged, and they enjoyed the individual activities. They were skeptical of the story from the beginning, not really believing that the generator had really been stolen. Interestingly, they also thought that the two “suspects” we introduced were actually us. This might be a fun alternative way to wrap up the unit, with one STOMP partner being the criminal. I also would suggest adding props early in the semester. We introduced “evidence” – a note written in expo marker that we analyzed to determine its author. It would have been better for the story if we had brought this in early on as something we found, and returned to it for analysis with paper chromatography later on. Another fun way to add to the story would be to make a video of the perpetrator confessing to the crime.

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