Hello! Welcome back to our monthly post that will focus on STEAM activities and snacks you can do at home with your family or with your troops.
Ah, it’s finally spring! With the warmer weather approaching, many of us use this time to get some Spring Cleaning started. Why not put all those things in your junk drawer and recycling bins to good use by creating model cars! This STEAM activity brings together the engineering and art by allowing girls to explore their creativity and build something out of objects they have at home. By using everyday “junk” they will expand their minds and repurpose it into something new.
Why mechanical engineering?
When you hear the word engineering, you usually think about buildings and bridges. Learning about the different branches or types of engineering is not only interesting, but it can be fun and useful for you and your troop.
In its most basic definition, mechanical engineering is the design and building of machines. A mechanical engineer is someone who solves problems with creative solutions, usually through designing and building different types of machinery. Engineers use their imaginations to invent new things and come up with new and better designs. This is a great opportunity to help young girls learn problem-solving skills that help make the world a better place.
Mechanical engineers are involved in many fields of work, including:
Aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, construction, energy, manufacturing, medicine, railway engineering, and sports!
Mechanical engineers use the design process to work through their solutions and designs. These are skills the girls can adapt to any situation:
- Define the need
- Test & evaluate
- Share solutions
Remember: Steps 4-6 can be repeated in a cycle over and over again until a final design has been found/created.
What if I’m not an expert?
We are not all mechanical engineers, and it is ok to feel like we don’t know enough to lead the girls in engineering activities. But remember you do know enough! Focus on the steps of the design process, let the girls lead their projects, see where it goes. You will get different designs as the girls use their imagination to solve the challenge.
If you are feeling that you want more expert knowledge, reach out to your troop parents, friends, relatives or other GSHPA troop leaders on the GSHPA Facebook page to see if there is an engineer you can invite to come talk to your girls.
How do I get started?
To get familiar with mechanical engineering, watch this video from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It’s a great video to share with your girls to learn about mechanical engineering, understanding how to involve your interests when considering a future career, and learning that mechanical engineering is way more than what you might’ve thought. Video: What is a Mechanical Engineer? –An Introduction
Before gathering supplies for you to do the activity, remember, it is always easier to guide girls through the process when you have done it yourself. Start at the beginning and work through each step, make notes (mental or written) on how each step works for you and any modifications you might make for your girls. When you are done you now have a prototype to share with the girls!
- Daisy Mechanical Engineering Model Car: Steps 1 & 3
- Brownie Mechanical Engineering Race Car: Steps 2, 4, & 5
- D/B/J/C/S/A Think Like an Engineer Journey: Step 1
- Find out how engineers use design thinking to solve problems.
Look in your junk drawer, recycling bin, and around the house for materials to create a model car.
General supplies: paper, pencil, tape, glue/hot glue, and scissors.
Things that might be handy for designing/redesigning: rubber bands, push pins/tacks,
Here are some suggestions for specific model car parts:
- Body of car: water bottle, toilet paper/paper towel tube, juice box, disposable cup, takeout container, ice cream container, milk carton, cardboard box, tissue box, cans (soda, canned food)
- Axles: straws, BBQ skewers, chopsticks, toothpicks, pencils, pens
- Wheels: bottle caps, candy mints with a hole in the middle, CDs, cardboard circles, buttons, beads
- Connecter for attaching wheels to axle: dry sponge, foam, clay, marshmallow cut in half
Introduction to the girls
Start the activity by talking to the girls about what a mechanical engineer is and introduce the design process. This would be a good opportunity to share the “What is a Mechanical Engineer?” video with the group.
If you have a large group or think your girls would enjoy working in pairs have them pair up at this point. Explain that they will be following the design process for each step of this activity.
Define the need
To build a model car out of materials found around the home, build a car that will move when pushed or using air as an energy source.
Brainstorm & Design
Give each girl a piece of paper and pencil and set the timer to at least 5 minutes (10 minutes if you think your girls need more time) to brainstorm their ideas. Girls should use the full five minutes to draw their ideas and write down any thoughts. If they think they’re done, ask them to get more specific or draw their design from different angles/points of view. What kind of car do they want to create? What is their power source? What materials are they going to use?
Have girls grab their materials and build their cars! Encourage them to try out different materials and take a moment to think how it will work in their designs. Remind them that it’s okay if it doesn’t work how they imagined – mechanical engineers encounter problems like this every day in their jobs. Problems are a way to find the solution.
Test & Evaluate
Remind the girls that as they are testing to ask themselves questions like: How it is working? How does it look? Is there something I can do to make it perform better? What other material would work since this one doesn’t? Can I adjust something before taking away that material? Will changing one thing affect another?
Girls take those questions they asked themselves and redesign their cars. Some may need small changes and others may need to start over. Remind them: if your car doesn’t work the way you want it to, that’s not a failure, that’s an opportunity to make it better. Take a few minutes to think about what went wrong and how you can change it. Once it is redesigned, test and evaluate again.
Once everyone has designed, built, and tested their cars it’s time to share! Have each girl showcase her car and share what she did to create it, test it, and improve it.
As a group, ask the girls questions like:
- What made your car go faster?
- What would have slowed the cars down?
- What failures did you face? What did you do to work through it?
- How did you improve your designs?
- If you had more time, what would you do?
Time for a Snack
Great job! Keep the mechanical engineering theme going by creating and eating your own apple and grape race cars!
- Knife to cut fruit
- Grab your apple and cut two full cheeks – cut the two sides of the apple, leaving the middle. Slice out the center into thirds, creating a wedge.
- Cut grapes in half.
- Push 2 toothpicks into each apple wedge to represent the car axles. Put the grape halves on each side to represent wheels.