|Reverse engineering flashlights: A Halloween hit!|
With most of the Memorial School’s third graders turning themselves into ghouls, fairies, and superheroes tonight, the third grade teachers and I recognized a perfect opportunity to integrate some STEM and safety into their halloween plans!
When engineers find themselves presented with technology that fascinates them, many find the best way to learn more about it is to take it apart, or reverse engineer the product. Flashlights are not only products that visually demonstrate fundamental concepts around simple circuitry, they can also be produced (and therefore purchased) cheaply en masse. I found kits from Kelvin Education that served us perfectly for our needs.
While Kelvin provided a student guide that led kids through the process of taking apart and analyzing the parts of a flashlight, we wanted all of our students to have their own flashlights to explore. I developed a modified worksheet where students answered questions proposed over the course of seven stages in the reverse engineering process.
Students were completely engaged throughout the activity. We started as engineers would, carefully measuring the dimensions of the flashlight and brainstorming why the outer shell was made from plastic. Kids offered reasons ranging from “plastic is an insulator and keeps the electricity in” to “plastic keeps water out,” all good reasons I might add.
Then students dove into the insides of the flashlights. The set of slides above were used to help pace students through the reverse engineering process, suggesting students ponder over curious part properties and how they might influence the overall effectiveness and design of the flashlight. Along with pulling the flashlight apart, students were asked to create workable circuits on their own with the bulbs, wires, and flashlight parts provided. Later we introduced students to a schematic diagram and asked students to label important parts of the electronic circuit and review other fascinating parts such as the “reflector” to demonstrate applied scientific knowledge around light and mirrors to technology.
Parent volunteers were a boon to the program, putting out small fires went parts went astray or there were disagreements about whose bulbs were whose. The support of the Memorial PTO was also critical as it helped defer much of the cost of the flashlights to the kids who ultimately took them home to use while out and about this evening! Teachers were all in agreement that this was definitely a worthy activity for the electricity and engineering curriculum, never mind the fact it nestled so nicely into what can otherwise be a frantic Halloween school day!