K-12 Outreach Efforts

UAB | MS State | NCSU | UF


BEST Robotics Mall DayUAB Promotes Engineering and STEM Topics through Robotics Competition and Activities

BEST (“Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology”) Robotics, Inc. is a non-profit, volunteer-run national organization that aims to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through participation in a sports-like, science- and engineering-based robotics competition. The UAB School of Engineering is sponsoring a BEST hub in Central Alabama called Blazer BEST Robotics. As part of this effort, the team holds a competition each fall for middle and high school students in the Greater Birmingham, Jefferson County, and Shelby County areas.

Participants form teams that have six weeks to design, manufacture, test, and demonstrate (through competition) a unique robotic machine. UAB students and alumni, as well as engineers and other technical professionals from local industries and civic groups, volunteer to serve as team mentors. These mentors can only function as guides and advisors, leaving the students to perform all of the work. Through their efforts, students gain an understanding of the practical uses of math concepts and applied physics, learn to solve real-world science and engineering problems, and become competent and confident in skills such as abstract thinking, teamwork, project management, decision-making, problem solving, and leadership. The project equips the students with skills that are transferable to all academic disciplines and career pursuits, while “demystifying” the engineering profession. Of course, the ultimate goal is to have fun!

This year, nineteen middle and high schools participated in the event, which kicked off at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham on September 12. The effort also included a Mall Day (right) at the Riverchase Galleria Mall in Hoover, AL on October 13, and a Game Day at the Bartow Arena on October 29.

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Alpha TestingMississippi State Students Working to Develop New Activities for Family Engineering Night

Students in the Introduction to Mechanical Engineering class at Mississippi State University are conducting a Service Learning Project to develop new and exciting transportation activities to add to the existing Family Engineering Night (FEN) events. The current FEN program consists of long and short activities that all aim to introduce participants to engineering concepts. Long activities are designed to take about 45 minutes to complete, and are cooperative activities for parents and students. Short activities are quick, 2-5 minute experiences, where parents and students are challenged to complete a task in a specific time frame to get a glimpse into engineering ideas.

The 25-30 students involved in the Service Learning Project worked in groups to develop one long activity or a set of four short activities using materials that can be obtained easily and within the allotted per-activity budget. The groups conducted alpha testing of the new activities in class with their peers (above right), and beta tested the activities at FEN events this fall with kids and their parents.

Poster Exhibition

The groups will then have the opportunity to revise their activities as needed, ensuring that each activity includes instructional information (setup instructions, supply list, engineering field and content, and activity steps) and an activity card for the participants with illustrated instructions, engineering connection, and a real-life application for the activity. The finished product may be incorporated as a permanent part of the FEN program.

The semester-long program culminated with a poster exhibition November 20 (left) at the Bost Extension Center. The presentations were voted on by senior mechanical engineering students, among others, to recognize the best performing students.

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NCSU RobotNCSU Offers Robotics Workshop to Educate Participants on Transportation Engineering

North Carolina State University offered a three-day workshop in October on “LEGO® Robot Vehicle Lesson Plans for Secondary Education.” Participants included ten 6th and 7th grade students at Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, NC.  The curriculum was developed at the University of Florida for the purpose of introducing students to transportation engineering and how transportation impacts their every-day lives.  The lesson plans introduced the concept of using intelligent transportation systems to assist in the mitigation of traffic congestion.  Students programmed the LEGO® Robot Vehicles to perform a variety of activities that illustrated how intelligent vehicles use sensors to perform tasks that can help mitigate traffic congestion.  At the end of the workshop, students expressed a new appreciation for transportation engineers and the work they perform.

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Engineering Day PairUF Cooperates with Local Museum and Schools to Spread the Word about Engineering

On July 9, the University of Florida piloted Engineering Day at the Cade Museum, a local science museum in Gainesville, Fla. This day-long workshop aimed to introduce middle-school students to engineering concepts and foster interest in engineering as a possible career option. The fourteen attendees built roller coasters, straw bridges, and cars powered by string attached to the spring of a mousetrap.

Carole, the mother of one of the attendees, emailed after the workshop that her daughter, Julia (left) “really enjoyed Engineering Day and even said she may be interested in becoming an engineer one day.” Carole also mentioned that her father, a retired civil engineer, would be delighted if her daughter became an engineer, as “out of 18 grandchildren, not one has even mentioned wanting to become an engineer yet until now.”

Lincoln Middle Critters

Other outreach activities at UF this summer included a LEGO® Robotics Introduction to Transportation Engineering for middle school students at the Cade Museum on July 17, and two Engineers Change the World workshops for middle school girls, where students made engineering connections by building straw bridges and making critters with moving parts out of construction paper and paper fasteners (right) to learn about mechanisms and machines.

Activities this fall have included a day long workshop for high school students to explore careers in transportation engineering, during which students set up and ran a traffic simulation; a booth at the PK Yonge Research School Carnival (below), where children tested tinfoil boats loaded with pennies and built cantilevers with dominos; and a LEGO® Robotics workshop at a middle school in Jacksonville as part of the effort, Engineering: It’s for Girls, Too! The ASCE student chapter at UF is also presenting engineering activities in an afterschool program at Lincoln Middle school each Monday during October and November 2013, an effort pioneered by Jennifer Connell, a UF graduate student and member of the WTS student chapter board.


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Student Volunteers at PK Young Engineering Fair