Mechanical engineers solve problems related to machines. They need to know about energy and how it helps machines make work easier for us and others. They also are very interested in knowing about materials and their unique properties. As machines are designed and improved upon, mechanical engineers play an integral part of our society.
The ultimate design challenge in our mechanical engineering unit had first graders combine everything they learned into designing a windmill. Having just designed sails, students took the knowledge gained about various materials and their properties to design the blades for a windmill. Knowing the blades needed to catch the wind, they tried to lift as much weight as possible. If the blades didn't spin, then their windmill wouldn't be able to do any work. By using the engineering design process, students were able to redesign their windmills as many times as necessary to do the work! Way to go first grade!
Examining a wide variety of materials (paper cups, craft sticks, tissue paper, plastic grocery bags, felt, aluminum foil, copy paper, wax paper, and coffee stirrers), first graders designed their own sails to glide along a track. They experimented not only with the type of materials, but also with the size and shape. The end goal...reach the end of the track as quickly as possible! If mechanical engineers design parts of machines that move, then they need to know which materials can catch wind energy the best!
Every machine has moving parts, and ultimately those moving parts make work easier for you and me. We looked at many different types of machines in class, and discovered that in order to get those parts moving, they required energy. We slowly discovered how each machine has an action put in to get the machine moving, and then there is a resulting motion. The resulting motion made something easier.
The machines we looked at in class were glue sticks, mechanical pencils, can openers, and egg beaters. We then compared these everyday machines to the more complicated machines we read about with Leif--windmills and wind turbines. Windmills catch wind energy and turn it into useful work like pumping water, grinding grain, or lifting weight. Wind turbines transform wind energy into electrical energy that we can use to light and heat our homes.
Leif is a young boy who loves to study the weather! He uses his own weather collection tools to track the weather and share this information with his friend Dana, who has recently moved. Leif also LOVES to make observations around him. Noticing that the fish in his pond are having a hard time breathing, he must find a way to get the fish more air before they die. He decides to request the help of Dana's mom, who is a mechanical engineer. Learning about how machines require energy to move their parts, Leif uses wind turbines and windmills as his inspiration. Leif and Dana work in a team to design a machine that can catch the wind and help the fish breathe easier. They explore how machines work, the materials used to design them, and ultimately, use the engineering design process to make sure the windmill they design catches the most wind for the fish!
Key vocabulary: mechanical engineer, machines, materials, properties, energy, windmill, wind turbine