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Engineering Physics: Modding and Making

Rigorous science and math coursework is dominated by laws, lectures and lab procedures, but in reality, scientists and engineers are intensely creative people who make their living experimenting, tinkering and following hunches.  The suppression of creativity in technical fields is a severe injustice.  The current popularity of the “Maker Movement” provides a perfect platform for students to express their creativity by tinkering with physics, building circuits and implementing their knowledge of translational and rotational motion.  The atmosphere of exploration and play reduces academic pressure on students and provides them with an end product that they have a personal investment in.

            This unit plan is designed for implementation in a high school physics course with has learned about linear mechanics, rotational mechanics and DC circuits.  This topic list makes it a great fit for a culminating unit in the AP Physics 1: Algebra Based course, but is easily suited to any hands-on course in physics, electronics, mechatronics or engineering.  Students are guided through experiences where they can develop skills with tools, fabrication, design, programming, electronics and robotics.  The prompts and tasks are extremely open ended, which provides ample opportunity for student creativity to shine and individual motivations and interests to guide the learning.  Students are challenged to use iterative processes such as Design Thinking to refine their work and solve real world problems.

            Some of the topics and techniques addressed include, but are not limited to, 3D printing, 3D carving and Arduino, all of which are popular and modern technologies at the forefront of design, fabrication, engineering and robotics.  Software skills include 3D design in CAD and programming for Arduino, which is similar to C.  To make sure that the work being done continues to develop writing and communication skills, there is a focus also placed on blogging, collaboration and publishing student work online in an open source environment.

Klint Kanopka
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