Free Smithsonian Activities for National Engineers Week
Engineering is the practice we use to solve problems. Because of its importance in our world, there is a celebration for it every February. This year’s National Engineers Week (E-week for short) is February 17–24. Here are two ideas for your E-week celebration. The first is a hands-on build that can be easily adapted to your time and classroom. The other is a digital challenge called Tami’s Tower, which can be played online or downloaded to an Apple, Android, or Amazon device.
Physical Challenge- Index Tower
Building an index card tower is a great chance for students to stretch their engineering muscles. It does not require very many materials and can be easily adjusted to match your time and class. We have listed the materials, quantities, criteria, constraints, and scenario we usually use. You can change any of it to better suit your class.
For the group
- 50 index cards
- Tape, 12 in
- 1 Stuffed animal/ water bottle/ artifact
For the teacher
- Measuring tape
- A stuffed animal, water bottle, or other object act as the artifact
- The tower must hold the artifact for (number of seconds determined by group)
- The tower needs to be 30 cm high
- You may only use the cards and the tape.
- You can tear the cards.
At the Smithsonian, we use physical items of historic or scientific importance, called artifacts, to share information with people around the world. One way we do that is to create exhibitions so people can see the artifact. Today we are going to design an exhibition for this artifact. (Display whatever your artifact will be.) What are some things we need to consider for our exhibition? (This is where you will create your criteria and address constraints. If you create them as a class you are more likely to have better student motivation and buy-in.)
Once your class has decided on appropriate criteria and constraints, give the groups some time (5–10 minutes) to discuss possible solutions and to come to a consensus on the best solution. Once your groups have a plan, hand out the materials for them to prepare to build. We usually go with 15–20 minutes of build time. After the build time ends, you will test all of the towers to see if they meet the criteria. Depending on time, allow groups to rebuild to improve their design or discuss what changes they could make in future attempts.
Tower designed by a team at the 2018 STEM Forum hosted by Dow, Jacobs, and the SSEC in Lake Jackson, TX. (Image: Dow)
Digital Challenge- Tami’s Tower
Tami’s Tower is an engineering game that can be played online or downloaded here. In this game, students are tasked with building a tower Tami the golden lion tamarin can climb to reach a cherry guava using limited shapes for each level. The tower will be tested by other animals walking through and causing the tower to shake. The game has built-in reflection periods, including a final big-picture look at all of the rounds.
- 1 Digital device per individual or pair
- Build a tower that reaches the dotted line.
- The tower must be strong enough for animals to walk past without knocking it over.
- You have limited shapes per round
Tami, the golden lion tamarin, lives at the zoo and wants to eat her favorite food—cherry guava. To reach the fruit, Tami will need to make a structure to climb. Tami has gathered materials and needs your help to make the tower. Your tower will need to be tall enough to reach the fruit and strong enough that it will not fall when other animals walk past.
In addition to the resources in the game, there is now a lesson plan with student sheets to help introduce the game and the principles behind it. All of the resources are available at this link.
Tami’s Tower: Let’s Think About Engineering was developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center and is available for free. (Image: Smithsonian Science Education Center)
Engineering activities are great ways for your students to try new things and solve problems. It is also a challenge for you as the teacher, so here are a few tips and reminders for engineering in your classroom:
- Be brave!
- Be strong! Students may struggle, which can be hard to watch, but it is good for them.
- Failure is an option. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is always a learning opportunity.
- Process over product. Engineering is a process to solve problems, which may have multiple products. Focus on the process to help students grow and be able to try again.