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Engineering Through Middle School Mathematics. Longwood University Webinars With Dr. Virginia Lewis and Mrs. Diane Leighty. Quote from Cathy Seeley: . “The active engagement of students in their own learning is perhaps our most important tool in our battle for equity.” .

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engineering through middle school mathematics

Engineering Through Middle School Mathematics

Longwood University Webinars

With Dr. Virginia Lewis and Mrs. Diane Leighty

quote from cathy seeley
Quote from Cathy Seeley:

“The active engagement of students in their own learning is perhaps our most important tool in our battle for equity.”

engineering skills for all
Engineering Skills For ALL!
  • Communication
  • Creativity/Inventiveness
  • Critical Thinking Skills/Problem Solving
  • Applied math & science
  • Research skills
  • Collaboration – team work!
s tandards o f l earning
Standards Of Learning
  • Measurements, unit conversions
  • Size, shape, material characteristics
  • Data collection, graphical representations, algebraic statements
  • Scale models; proportions
  • Valid conclusions from analyzing data
  • Experimental results in written form
robo wheel 15 minutes for construction
Robo Wheel – 15 minutes for construction

2 paper bowls

2 rubber bands

3 feet of string

Pushpin or thumbtack

Tape (duct or masking)

Sharp pencil

find the center
Find the Center
  • Nest the bowls together. Wrap a rubber band around the bowls.
  • Slide it right and left until it divides the bottom circle of the bowl into two equal halves.
  • Make an "X" with the other rubber band. The four quarters make four "pizza slices."
  • Move the rubber bands until all four "pizza slices" are of equal size.
  • The center of the circle is where the rubber bands cross.
mark the center where the holes will go
Mark the Center – Where the holes will go
  • Mark two dots on each side of the center. Make them equal distance from the center and about a half inch apart. (About the width of your index finger)
make the holes
Make the Holes
  • With your dots as a guide, use the pushpin to poke holes in the bowls.
enlarge the holes slightly
Enlarge the holes Slightly
  • Remove the rubber bands and separate the bowls. 
  • Gently poke a sharp pencil into a pushpin hole. Twist it and push gently. Stop when the hole is just a bit bigger than the string. That's usually around where the wood part of the pencil starts, just after the black lead.
thread the string
Thread the String….
  • Begin by threading the string through the bottom of Bowl 1, starting from the outside.
  • Next, thread the string through one of Bowl 2's holes, coming from the inside.

Then thread the string through the bottom of Bowl 2, coming from the outside.

  • Finally, thread the string through the open hole in Bowl 1, coming from the inside.

Tear off four 2-inch squares of tape. For now, stick them where they will be easy to grab.

Line up the bowls so the holes are even with each other. 

Stick the tape so the pieces are across from each other.


Slide your wheel to the middle of the string loop and hold both ends.

  • To twist the string, push the wheel across the table or floor or ask a friend to help you spin the wheel to wind up the string.
spin the wheel 5 to 10 minutes for this part
Spin the wheel – 5 to 10 minutes for this part
  • Pull outward on the string. The wheel will spin as the string untwists. Pull hard.
  • Stop pulling just before all the twists unwind. 

Bring your hands together so the string is loose and the wheel sags down a bit. The Robo Wheel will keep spinning and will twist the string in the other direction. 

  • When the wheel stops spinning, pull out again, hard.

Now that you've practiced spinning the wheel, try releasing it. 

  • Hold the string with your thumbs in the loop. Hold the wheel just above where you want to launch it. 
  • Spin the wheel forwards and backwards a few times to get it revved up.
  • Wait until the wheel is spinning away from you to begin your release. 
  • Let the string unwind until it is almost completely untwisted. (At this point, there will be lots of room for your thumbs to release the string.)
  • Drop the string, and watch your wheel go!

What is the circumference of your wheel?

How far does your wheel travel?

How many rotations did your wheel make?

What mathematics can be learned or practiced from this activity?

extensions 10 minutes including video discussion
Extensions….10 minutes, including video & discussion
  • Discussion of what mathematics can be learned or practiced using this activity.
  • Video from Zoom PBS website…

pop up card 5 10 minutes to create
Pop-Up Card – 5-10 minutes to create
  • How to make: Watch video at
  • Try making your own pop-up card
pop up card continued 5 minutes discussion
Pop-Up Card (continued) – 5 minutes discussion
  • What mathematics can be explored or reinforced with this activity?
  • How else can this be used in the classroom?
study mathematics through data 5 min
Study Mathematics Through Data – 5 min.

Bones Data

  • Measure the length of your arm from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger in inches. This is called a cubit.
  • Compare this measurement with your height in inches.
analyze the data 10 min
Analyze the data – 10 min.
  • Scatter plot of the data using Excel. Is there a line of best fit? Will this relationship change for students or younger children? Will it change for older adults?
  • Calculate the ratio of the cubit to height. In what ways can you analyze this singular data?
concrete to abstract
Concrete to Abstract:

Y=3.2421x - 3.2

forensic science application
Forensic Science Application
  • Picture of bones from forearm and hand bones…..How can we use what we have learned to estimate the height of this person?

7.75 inches

12.5 inches

10 minutes to wrap up first session
10 minutes to wrap up first session
  • Statistics with the data…normal distribution, z-scores, probability
  • Box-and-whiskers plot : National Library of Virtual Manipulatives link here
      • Or INTERACTIVATE site.
      • Advanced Data Grapher – Illuminations site
  • What is needed for next session
    • Data collection – upper arm length to height ratio
    • Research other body measurement ratios that would be interesting to explore in the classroom. Be ready to share your research and ideas with the group.
    • Materials needed: Cereal box or other box (NOT a cube) that can be cut with scissors; masking tape or transparent tape; scissors; metric ruler;
    • Calculate the surface area and volume of your box using cm.
start of 2 nd session 10 minutes
Start of 2nd Session – 10 minutes
  • Discuss data collected on upper arm vs height
string puppet create an arm in the same proportions as your own arm
String Puppet – Create an “arm” in the same proportions as your own arm.
  • 3 straight straws (2 narrow, 1 wider)
  • Fishing line (or thin string or thread)
  • Scissors or single-hole punch
  • Tape
create notches in the straw
Create Notches in the Straw
  • Use scissors or a single-hole punch to cut notches in the side of a narrow straw. These are the straw’s “joints.”
  • Experiment! Where you cut the notches will change the way the straw moves. Cut notches on the same side of one straw. Then with the second narrow straw, notch on different sides.
  • TIP: If you want your “arms” to bend in different directions… Alternate the notches on either side of the straw.

Cut a piece of fishing line three times the length of a straw. Thread it through one of the narrow straws.


When the string pokes through the end of the straw, bend it over the tip and tape it. Leave the other end loose.

  • Cut another piece of fishing line and thread it through the second narrow straw. Tape it as you did with the first.
make it move
Make It Move
  • Pull the loose strings. Watch your straws bend. What ideas does this give you? What type of puppet will you make?

Wedge the ends of both of the narrow straws into the wider straw, far enough down that they are secure. Both strings should now hang out of the bottom of the wider straw. 

  • TIP: If you wedge the narrow straws too tightly into the wider straw… Back them out a bit. The string needs to be able to slide easily without catching or rubbing.

Tape the ends

  • To pull both strings easily, tape them together and make a tab that lets you pull the two ends of string together.
  • Pull the tab and watch both “arms” (or maybe they are “legs”) of your puppet move.

Decorate your puppets! Add a head, body, and eyestalks, arms, and legs.

make a sketch of a person whose body parts are in the correct proportions for an average adult
Make a sketch of a person whose body parts are in the correct proportions for an average adult.
share research on body proportions
Share research on body proportions
  • Type their comments here……
creating new boxes from old ones
Creating New Boxes From Old Ones

Question How can you convert a cereal box into a new, cubical box having the same volume as the original?

Grade/Subject 6-8 Math

Area, volume, surface area, measurement


•Students should know how to determine both the surface area and volume of a rectangular prism.

•Students should be able to measure lengths accurately to the nearest millimeter.

materials needed
Materials needed:
  • Rectangular boxes, such as cereal, crackers, or pasta; and boxes containing macaroni and cheese, pudding or cake mixes; or boxes containing hot chocolate, tea, or instant oatmeal packets. Computer diskette boxes and boxes holding contact lens solutions and toothpaste also work well.
  • Masking tape, transparent tape
  • Sturdy scissors, one per pair if possible
  • Rulers (metric), one per pair if possible
  • Large envelopes or zipper-style plastic bags (a mix of quart and gallon size), one per pair
  • Large paper clips, one per pair
design challenge 10 15 minutes
Design Challenge – 10 - 15 minutes
  • Take your box and cut it up to make a new box that is cube-shaped. It should have the same volume as the original box.
do the activity
Do The Activity:

1. Measure each dimension (length (L), width (W), and height (H)) of your box to the nearest millimeter.

L = ___________ W =___________ H =_____________

2. Calculate the surface area (SA) of your box. SA = __________

3. Calculate the volume (V) of your box. V = ___________

Open the glued edges of your box. Cut off any parts of flaps that were hidden from view when the box was still intact. The hidden parts are usually easy to spot because they generally don’t have any color on them and/or they do have dried glue on them.


4. Using the volume you determined in step 3, calculate what the length of any side of your new cube-shaped box should be.

Length of any side =

5. On the inside of your opened-out box, draw the six identical squares you will need to make your cube-shaped box. Remember that their sides must all equal the length you calculated in step 5, and the sides must meet at 90° angles. You may find that you can will have to take some of the remaining scraps and will have to take some of the remaining scraps and tape them together, rather like a jigsaw puzzle, to make the last one or two sides of your cube.

6. After you have figured out how to obtain all six sides of your cube, cut them out. Important: save any remaining scraps! Put them in an envelope or zipper-type plastic bag. (It’s okay to fold them if you need to.)


7. As neatly as you can, tape the six squares together to form your cube-shaped box. It will be sturdy and look good if you use masking tape on the inside of the cube to attach adjacent squares and then use clear tape only on the outside for additional strength.

8. Calculate the surface area of your cube-shaped box.

SA of cube =

9. Find the area of each of the scraps. Since some of them may be oddly-shaped, you may want to divide them into squares and rectangles that will be easier to measure and calculate areas for. After you have determined all of their areas, add them up to get one total area of the scraps.

Total area of scraps =


Compare the new surface area of the cube to the surface area of the original box. Are they the same? If not, by how much do they differ?

Difference in surface areas =

How does this difference in surface areas compare with the surface area of the scraps?

What is the ratio of the new surface area to the old surface area?

Do you think this ratio will be the same for other boxes? Why or why not?

Which shape box is the most efficient? Explain.

what s next
What’s Next?
  • Lessons in the classroom
  • Start with one per 9-week grading period or per semester
  • Integrate into regular curriculum – NOT an add-on!
  • Keep it SIMPLE!
  • Work together with other teachers.
  • Ask your PTO/parents to contribute materials.
where can we get the lessons
Where can we get the lessons?
  • Children’s Engineering websites
    • for the PowerPoint and Lessons

Location Not Found Lesson:

pbs websites
PBS Websites
  • Building Big – PBS website
  • Zoom – PBS website
unit plan
  • Engage – Introduce the problem – something to spark interest
  • Explore – Helpful resources to get students started.
      • One or two foundational activities (somewhat teacher directed/guided)
  • Explain – Main task
    • What questions does the problem raise?
    • What are the expectations for “solving” the problem?
    • What will students be assessed/graded on? Rubrics/Checklists
  • Elaborate – Students working in pairs/groups to develop a workable solution (or partial solution) to the problem.
  • Evaluate – Provide rubrics for any written work, presentation, product produced by the group. Also peer and self-evaluations.