Tag Archives: engineering

Have You Ever Wanted to Be a Spy?? All About Our Electrical Engineering Design Challenge

In the culmination of our Steam Innovators Program, students complete the Electrical Engineering Design Challenge. In this kit, they build a nonvocal communication device utilizing a code that they develop to send messages via colored LEDS. 

Nonvocal is an umbrella term that refers to verbal communication without the element of voice. Meaning, nonvocal communication elements can include “the use of unspoken symbols (or gestures) to create meaning.”

The program incorporates aspects of the Engineering Design Process to develop prototypes—a skill that encourages students to think like innovators. As you’ll remember from our Breadboard DIY Kit, a breadboard allows students to test out what works and what doesn’t. 

The Electrical Engineering Design Challenge is our culmination project after students have completed seven other circuit-based projects leading up to the challenge. Breadboards and batteries allow students to create projects in the classroom that would otherwise be difficult to achieve in this setting. 

Some of the materials in this kit include the breadboard, CR2032 battery and holder, LEDs, copper tape, plug-to-plug jumper wires, and your glove. The blank breadboard is used to plan out and diagram your circuit.

In this kit, students assemble the piece of wearable technology, illustrate the circuit, create their code using their Design Challenge Workbook, then test the code and use it to communicate with other students! The workbook has all your instructions, a place to design your code, and all your blueprints.

A blueprint is a two-dimensional set of drawings that provides a detailed visual representation of how an architect wants a building to look. Blueprints typically specify a building’s dimensions, construction materials, and the exact placement of all its components.

Here you can see two students at SAR Academy, in Riverdale, NY using their nonvocal communication gloves to transmit their secret messages to each other. 

Because the electronic device is wearable and uses LEDS, it allows for the sneakiest of messages in the dark. Students practice their hand at constructing a simple circuit and then put it to practical application. Have fun deciphering messages!


What’s a Photometer? All About Our Light Sensitivity DIY Kit!

“I love plants and have some in my bedroom window and now I can measure how much light they’re getting!”

—5th grade student, SAR Academy 

In our last blog post we talked all about what a breadboard is and how it can help us tinker and explore. In order to learn more about light and electronics, we’re also going to use a breadboard to experiment and make our own DIY photometer. 

A photometer is a tool that measures the strength of light. It converts light into electricity using a photoresistor (fishersci.com).

Once we make that…well then the options are endless what we can do with it! One way, pictured above, is to measure how much light our plants are receiving to make sure they’re staying healthy.  

We already know all about how beneficial experimentation and curiosity is to deeper learning, and with this DIY Kit, we dive deeper into circuitry. In order to make our own photometer, we will need the breadboard, LEDs, batteries, jumper wires, and a photoresistor.

What’s a photoresistor?

You’re walking down the street at dusk—the light is hazy and golden. As you round the corner, the sun begins to set…and as it gets darker…the street lights POP on. This is because there’s a tiny piece of electronic hardware in the lamppost called a photoresistor. It doesn’t have a positive or negative terminal, so electricity can flow through in either direction.

A photoresistor is a type of resistor. Resistors work similarly to a kink in a garden hose slowing or stopping the water. When we add a resistor to a circuit before an LED, we can dim the LEDs brightness. You might use a resistor to dim the lights in your home.

What makes photoresistors special is their ability to sense light. If it senses a lot of light, it reduces resistance and lets electricity flow. If it doesn’t sense light, it creates a large amount of resistance and prevents electricity from flowing.

How do we make the photometer?

First, we insert the photoresistor in the breadboard. Then, we insert the jumper wires. Now we can follow our created circuit! The DIY kit includes all the fun instructions to create your own tool. 

How is the photoresistor relevant to our daily lives?

Every day we interact with electronic devices in many ways—buttons, switches, remote controllers, voice commands, touch screens, night lights, etc. Photoresistors allow us to interact with electronics in a very cool way. 

The Light Sensitivity DIY kit is designed to demonstrate the way we can interact with electronics using light, which helps with visual learning. We can even see the level of light that our plants are receiving by the brightness of the LED, which makes this DIY kit extremely interactive and useful even after assembly. 

Therefore, students learn while they make the photometer and then they can observe their surroundings with their newly created tool!

How Does a Breadboard Encourage Experimentation? Why Is That Important for Learning? All About Our Breadboard Basics DIY Kit

Curiosity and the urge to solve problems are the emotional hallmarks of our species.

—Carl Sagan

A curious mind thrives on the art of play and experimentation. One of the ways that we can encourage experimentation is through engineering, which is the “practical application of scientific knowledge to solve everyday problems.” (Ed.gov

Engineering relies on the art of testing and prototyping, which is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process. (Wiki) A prototype is like a first-draft where students can test out what works and what doesn’t. 

What is a breadboard? How does it encourage exploration?

A breadboard allows the mind to harness the desire to explore, test, and prototype without the burden of soldering. Students can test out different circuit paths without having to make permanent wire-splices, which makes it that much easier to have fun with problem-solving and building! 

In the kit, we use the breadboard to make and test out experiments. The breadboard has pins that are connected using conductive metal. Each row is a team of pins that share electricity and we send electric current using jumper wires. 

A battery has two terminals (positive and negative) that fit into the breadboard pins. Then, we insert the LED terminals into the breadboard and use that to visually show us our “test results”. 

We use the conductive metal tip of brass fasteners and the jumper wires to create two closed circuits. This is called a multi-path circuit. In order for the LED to light, its circuit must make a complete circular path back to the battery. 

From here, students can begin to take on more and more complex projects involving breadboards, such as Curious DIY Kits: Light Sensitivity, Knob Dimmer and Wireless Electricity. 

How does exploration create an environment for learning?

In our last blog post, we talked all about how curiosity leads to deeper learning. When we experiment, we foster imagination. The first step to learning is to admit that we don’t know something. Then, the fun begins when we start to discover how and why something works. Like Anatole France said, “The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” With our Breadboard Basics DIY Kit, students are set up to tinker and explore….and hopefully discover!