Design it, build it, test it, fly it
In your classroom, students may be working with concepts like aerodynamics and the Design Process. Many kids use the CO2 dragster as a way of exploring these ideas. In MAKE: Volume 15 and MAKE: Volume 16, we have a couple of projects that can really help students turn on their minds while they get their hands on tools that enable them to work with the concepts of both planning a design and revising it based on testing as well as really seeing the affect of various custom made shapes on the fluid flowing over the form.

Designing and building in three dimensions
Designing a model on paper is one thing, but when you can hold it in your hand, everything seems clearer. A great quick way to make your own three dimensional shapes is the 5-Minute Foam Factory You can find detailed build instructions on how to build your own hot wire foam cutter on pages 116-120 of your print or digital edition of MAKE: Volume 16.

Once you have the cutter built, you can test out your designs.The promises of the online version of Make really comes out with the styrofoam cutter. There are loads of neat techniques in the online version of the project. Online, there are techniques that either didn’t fit or were not developed in time for the print edition. There are some useful comments offering suggestions around materials and safety.

Keep it Safe
On safety with this project, there are a few things to keep in mind while working with kids: Toxic fumes and Fire. You will need to work out a way to deal with these. Using the foam cutter near a window and venting it to the outside might just be enough. As far as fire, supervision is the key, and making sure that every student is clear about the expectations of keeping themselves and their classmates safe. Having a reasonably sized fire extinguisher handy seems like a prudent safety measure with this project. If you still have questions or concerns, check with your local fire department and see what they have for suggestions.

Make your wind tunnel –

Your wind tunnel could be made from lots of different materials. Many schools have at least a few paper boxes kicking around, which could provide some structure for the tunnel. Coroplast folds nice and tapes to close. Concrete footing tube would give you a round shape for the tunnel. A window fan could pull the air through, or you could even raid some out of some computer power supplies. For the straws you will need, you could raid the cafeteria or a burger joint for some drinking straws, though you should probably ask before cleaning out the straw bin.

What will your students learn and do?
Your wind tunnel and foam cutter help you to have students make a design based on the aerodynamics principles you specify, and then test the various designs they come up with, providing real data on their design choices. By trying several designs as individuals or as a group, students can start to see and visualize the shapes and surfaces that lend towards less drag and more lift. They can then start to recognize aerodynamic forms in the engineered world around them and understand why things look and function as they do.

Finding out more
Here are some resources from TeachEngineering on the subject of Aerodynamics.

If you are looking for lots of resources on teaching Engineering, Celeste Baine has a great collection of the top 10 List of K-12 Engineering Education Programs. Design Squad has a resource page for educators with lots of printable materials for classroom use.

While we are on the topic of aerodynamics, a look at Airplanes from How Stuff Works might come in handy. You might also find some ideas at Instructables on aerodynamics based projects.

What do you think?
Have you built the 5 Minute Foam Factory? Have you built the Model Wind Tunnel? What have you done with these projects on your own? What are the best resources you have found for teaching the Design Process in your classroom? What techniques help your students to stick with multiple versions of sketch models, appearance models and prototypes as they home in on a final design? What is the best way to get kids excited about aerodynamics, lift, drag and fluid friction? How can you help your students to visualize the effects of various shapes and surfaces on a design they are about to build? What are some other ways you could or have used these projects in your classroom? Join us in the conversation in the comments, and add your pictures and videos to the Make Flickr pool.