Course title

Exploring Engineering



Course description

This is the first in the three course engineering sequence program in Tucson Unified School District. Students begin to learn the Arizona engineering standards that have been cross-walked with the state’s science and mathematical standards. Students operate in small teams as they design; develop; and validate shorter term engineering projects in the context of conceptual science; technology; engineering; and mathematics. Students will also be introduced to the many different engineering disciplines and experience many of these in the context of these projects. Included in this process are scientific data collection and analysis to determine effectiveness of designs prior to prototyping and final construction and scientific testing. Methods of scientific instruction include lecture; research and project design. Students are required to document in a lab book every step in the engineering and scientific process.

II. Expected Outcomes:

• Students will begin to apply principles of science concepts; technology; engineering; mathematics; communication and teamwork to the solution of short-term engineering design projects and problem solving.
• Students will begin to develop mastery of the scientific method and engineering process.
• Students will begin to realize the importance of science; technology; engineering and mathematics to real world problems.
• Students will begin to become familiar with the diverse engineering disciplines and the important impact they have made on society.

III. Science Content Covered:

kinematics; Newton’s Laws; rotational mechanics; forces; friction/drag; vectors;
potential & kinetic energies; power; work; impulse; momentum; conservation of energy; alternative energies; electricity & magnetism; optics; fluid dynamics.

IV. Curriculum:

A.Scientific Method & Engineering Process
a.Flowchart Design
b.Compare/contrast with Venn Diagram
B.Lab Skills & Safety
a.Safety Video
b.Teacher Modeling Method
C.Team Work Skills
a.Spaghetti Tower Design Activity
b.Candy Car Design Activity
c.Spaghetti Bridge Activity
d.Ball Kicker Design Activity
D.Velocity vs. Acceleration; Newton’s Laws of motion; torque
a.LEGO NXT Robotics Activities
i.Program bot for specific speed & direction
ii.Program bot velocity using wheel circumference
iii.Program bot to arrive at location in a specific time
iv.Plot velocity / time data – determine function
v.Program change in velocity in a specific time
vi.Program bot to arrive at specific location while decelerating
vii.Plot acceleration/time data – determine function
viii.Compare gear ratios; speed; force; torque (LEGO “Tractor” Pull)
E.projectile Motion Newton’s Laws of Motion; Fluid Dynamics
a.Water Bottle Rocket Activity
i.Describe path of a projectile
ii.Determine range & height
iii.Describe acceleration
iv.Determine force using F=ma
v.Compare component velocity/acceleration
vi.Compare range vs. different rocket fin designs
F.Newton’s Laws; Centripetal Acceleration; Kinetic & Potential Energy; Conservation of Energy
a.Roller Coaster Design Activity
i.Design coaster with friction and conservation of energy in mind
ii.Ball must stay on track and continue to move throughout
iii.Must contain at least 2 hills & 2 bank turns; vertical loop and motor to lift ball to starting position
G.Newton’s Laws; Centripetal Acceleration; Kinetic & Potential Energy; Conservation of Energy; Simple Machines
a.Rube Goldberg Machine Design Activity
i.Design a 12 step minimum machine to pop a balloon at the end
ii.Must have at least 5 different simple machine incorporated
iii.Must use at least one DC motor; light bulb /socket; 2 batteries
iv.Must travel up or down 16” twice minimum
H.Forces; Fluid Dynamics; Lift & Drag
a.Paper Airplane Design Activity
i.Compare 6 different paper airplane designs in terms of lift; drag; weight; distance; height.
ii.Write an analysis report for the flight of 3 trial of each design
iii.Plot the data for any four pairs of data collected
iv.Create a powerpoint presentation for your plotted data
I.Wave Mechanics; Sound; Frequency; Harmonics
a.Guitar Design Activity
i.Research guitar styles
ii.Research/record definition & examples of
1.sound; sound wave; frequency; harmonics
2.frequency dependence on string characteristics
3.density; length; thickness; tightness; material
b.Acoustic vs. electric strings
i.Design a three string guitar using foam board; 1/2”x2” wooden
neck; guitar strings; nuts and eye bolts (keys); 3” bolts (bridge)
ii.Determine where the frets need to be located on the neck
v.Present your design by playing
J.Light; Mirror & Lens Concepts
a.Kaleidoscope Design Activity
i.Research and document characteristics of flat mirror; lenses and Kaleidoscopes in lab book
ii.Design a foot long kaleidoscope using mirror plastic; 3” dia. PVC pipe; one lens; color confetti; 3” and 4” PVC end caps; and clear plastic
iii.Students present and describe scientific concepts of their Kaleidoscope designs
K.Solar Energy; Energy Conservation; Thermal Dynamics; Fluid Dynamics
a.Solar House Design Activity (see sample lesson below)
L.Newton’s Laws
a.Tower Strength Design Activity
i.Research and document characteristics of tower designs
ii.Design a 1’ tall tower for compression strength
iii.Tower base between 6”-9”
iv.Must accommodate a 2” dia. PVC pipe through entire height
v.Tower that holds the greatest applied weight to tower weight ratio wins


In this activity; student teams design and build a two-bedroom model house within the design constraints that uses passive solar heating techniques to heat the house and sustain that temperature as long as possible. Teams compare designs and make suggestions for improvements.
Learning Outcomes:
After this lesson; students should be able to:
• Model a few techniques used in passive solar heating.
• Explain the importance of passive solar heating in terms of energy conservation and the laws of thermal dynamics
• Identify the role an engineer plays in passive solar design
• Use data collected on temperature and time to mathematically model and compare their design.
• Interpret the slope (rate of change) and the intercept (constant term) meanings of a linear model in the context of the data

For each group:
• 32 x 20-inch sheet of 1/8-inch foam core board (this is one half of the standard foam core board sheet; typically available with the dimensions of 1/8-inch x 32-inches x 40-inches [.32 x 81 x 102-cm]; this is about 9 sq ft or .84 sq m)
• 1 sq ft (.09 sq m) thin clear plastic
• 4 sq ft (.37 sq m) aluminum foil
• 2 sq ft (.19 sq m) thin rubber (any kind)
• 2 sq ft (.19 sq m) black fabric (any kind)
• pencils; erasers and white or graph paper for designing and graphing
• (optional) Excel software for recording and graphing group data
• Design Challenge Handout; one per group
• Analysis & Results Worksheet; one per group
For the entire class to share:
• hot glue guns and/or tacky glue
• scissors
• utility knife
• thumbtacks
• scotch tape
• masking tape
• protractor
• straight edge (metal ruler)
For one testing station (you may want more than one station):
• 300-watt light bulb
• desk or clamp lamp (that can safely accommodate a 300-watt light bulb)
• floor or box fan
• ice
• bucket or plastic container (for the ice)
• thermometer (alternative: use a laptop and HOBO data loggers to automatically take and record temperature readings at specified intervals)
• watch or timer to determine 30-second intervals
• Teacher Testing Steps

The goal for students is to design and build a two-bedroom model house within the provided design constraints; utilizing passive solar heating design to warm up the house as much as possible and then sustain that temperature as long as possible. The design goal; design constraints; passive solar techniques; and other important information for the student teams are provided in the Design Challenge Handout
Once built; teams test their model house designs to compare ideas and results; and see what design modifications worked best and which did not work so well. See the Teacher Testing Handout for a description of how to go about testing the model houses.
Provide students with a variety of materials that can be used a number of ways. Below are examples of how some materials might be used:
• Foam core board: for walls and roofing; to mimic insulation and thermal mass
• Thin clear plastic: to let light in as windows; to heat up the homes
• Aluminum foil: to imitate metal surfaces; while not a thermal mass; it does reflect heat and light
• Thin rubber: to imitate a thermal mass
• Black fabric: while not a thermal mass; it absorbs a lot of heat from light
• Glue: besides holding the house together; it serves as a final insulator to seal up any cracks and small air leaks in the model homes

Encourage students to think creatively and come up with their own designs. See Figure 1 for examples of student-designed and -created model passive solar houses in the testing phase.
Design constraints
• Floor size: at least 100 square inches
• Roof height: at least 4 inches
Door size must be able to accommodate a thermometer that can be placed entirely inside the middle of the model with the door closed; and be able to be read through a window (find out thermometer dimensions from your teacher.)

Activity Extension
Have students re-test their model homes by adjusting the lamp (sunshine) angle to represent summer and winter solar exposures; and then comparing the results to see which models perform better in different seasons.
Have students redesign their model houses on paper to incorporate passive solar cooling techniques. Go a step further by having them make the modifications to their model houses and then re-test to see how quickly they can cool down their houses.

School country

United States

School state


School city


School / district Address

1010 E 10th St.

School zip code


Requested competency code

Lab Science

Date submitted



Approved competency code

  • LPHY
  • Physics

Approved date

Online / Virtual