Sample of NASA Engineering Activities for 6-8

Created by Sandra Weeks Last updated 4/8/2014

Explore my sampler of fun and educational engineering activities for students in grades 6-8 from the Wavelength collection. [NOTE: highly technical lessons are at the bottom of the list.] Want more? Try the following keyword searches in Wavelength: "Design" or "Build" to find activities about spacecraft design; "Design challenge" or "remote sensing" for activities that discuss spacecraft functions, or browse "Middle School Education" and refine your search by categories like the design process and lesson plans.

  • Strange New Planet

    Engaging activity that showcases how human curiosity in planetary exploration results in science questions, engineering solutions, and teamwork. Students experience the different phases in planetary exploration [inc. telescope observations, fly by missions, orbiters, landers, rovers, and their own ideas about human exploration]. The lesson models scientific inquiry using the 5E instructional model and includes teacher notes, prerequisite concepts and vocabulary. Nicely shows the interdependence of science, engineering, and technology.
    Benchmarks: 1C/P2, 3A/E2, 12D/M6
  • Mission Possible-How Can we Plan an Exploration of Another World?

    This can be used as either an alternative to Strange New Planet or an extension to the idea. Students discuss the path of a spacecraft traveling between planets, examining the journey from the Earth to Mars as an example. And then determine the pros and cons for different ways we can explore another world, either by observing from the Earth or by sending a spacecraft to fly by, orbit, or land on the world. Next students plan a complete mission to explore another world in the Solar System. By the end of the lesson, the students come to understand that what scientists want to learn about an object determines how they plan the mission, but real-life constraints such as cost and time determine what actually can be accomplished. Nice example of how engineering fits into the planning and carrying out of investigations.
    Benchmarks: 3B/M1, 3B/H1, 4A/E4, 12D/M6, 12D/M8, 12D/E8
  • Marsbound! Mission to the Red Planet

    A card game to design a mission to Mars that highlights the fundamentals of the engineering design process as they use collaboration and problem-solving skills to develop a mission that meets constraints (budget, mass, power) and criteria (significant science return). This activity can introduce many activities in technology education, including robotics and rocketry. The lesson models scientific inquiry using the 5E instructional model and includes teacher notes, vocabulary, student journal and reading.
    Benchmarks: 3A/M2, 3B/E1, 3B/M1, 4B/M2cd, 1B/H1
  • Collaborative Decision Making

    A study in optimizing the design solution, this module focuses on obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. Many socratic questions are provided for the teacher to use to aid students as they strengthen their understanding of and ability to use collaborative processes and communication practices to clarify, conceptualize, and make decisions. Students will compare the risks of varying courses of action that confront scientists and engineers. After the risks are identified, they will gather and convey evidence supporting and refuting the viability of these actions, and reach consensus. The module strategies rely primarily on student investigation into the background information that is necessary to support arguments; make quantitative risk analyses; engage in debate, role-playing, and persuasive writing/communication processes; and practice group decision-making procedures.
  • International Space Station LABS: Engineering Activity 1 Structures: Toothpick Truss

    A new twist on your typical bridge building activity. Students construct two different types of trusses to develop an understanding of engineering design for truss structures. And then the activity guides them in reflecting on the role of shapes in the strength of structures, which is a nice tie-in to the crosscutting concept of structure and function.
    Benchmarks: 9C/M1, 12D/E3
  • International Space Station LABS: Engineering Activity 2 Mass and Speed: Protecting Space Suits from Orbital Debris

    Particularly poignant after watching some clips from "Gravity" This activity has students investigate the relationship between mass, speed, velocity, and kinetic energy in order to select the best material to be used on a space suit. They will apply an engineering design test procedure to determine impact strength of various materials. Wonderful way to address designing solutions to problems.
    Benchmarks: 4F/H1, 4F/M3a, 12C/M3
  • Design Challenge: How to Keep Gelatin from Melting?

    Instead of the "melting ice lab" try this. Students design and build a platform that to serve as an insulator for a cube of gelatin. The goal is to keep the inside temperature of the gelatin cube as cool as possible. Materials cost will vary, depending on materials chosen by group (within budget set by the teacher). Great way to have your students practice testing and refining a design solution within constraints.
    Benchmarks: 12E/M5b, 12A/E1
  • Connecting Global Climate Change with Engineering

    A nice professional development resource that shows engineering design process as related to climate change. Learners compare the design process used in engineering projects with the scientific process, and explore elements of the engineering design process through global climate change. This material also provides resources for students to learn about engineering careers related to climate change. Directly relates to MS-ESS3-3 "...design a process for monitoring and minimizing human impact on the environment."
  • Rover Races

    A fun active activity where learners will simulate the challenges in communications that engineers face when driving a rover on Mars. Each team of students will design and execute a series of commands to guide a rover [made of people] through an obstacle course simulating the Martian surface. The lesson models the engineering design process using the 5E instructional model and includes teacher notes, vocabulary, student journal and reading.
    Benchmarks: 3B/E1, 3B/M1, 12D/E1, 12D/M6
  • Quaky-Shaky Design Challenge

    Great NGSS potential in this engineering challenge!Student teams are introduced to the engineering design process, and construct and test an earthquake-resistant structure.
    Benchmarks: 3A/M3
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Communication Design Challenge

    Beautiful cooperative group activity that models how scientists and engineers design and build spacecraft to collect, store, and transmit data to earth. Teams will design a system to store and transmit topographic data of the Moon and then analyze that data and compare it to data collected by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Great way to show the interdependence of science, engineering, and technology.
    Benchmarks: 3A/M2, 8D/E2
  • History of Saturn Discoveries

    Collaborative investigation that enables students to discern the multicultural nature of scientific inquiry and to see how technology improvements increase our ability to solve scientific mysteries. Another way to show the interdependence of science, engineering, and technology.
    Benchmarks: 1C/M1, 3C/M7
  • Powering the Satellite

    Tech savvy teachers and schools. This lesson requires computer access. Students use computers to research and learn how solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. Next, they calculate the surface area of solar panels board a satellite and their total power generated in various positions of the satellite, given the dimension of the panels. After, learners will organize and write a report summarizing the information. This lesson models the engineering design process using the 5 E instructional model.
    Benchmarks: 8C/E2, 12B/M7b, 12D/E8
  • Design Challenge - Shape of the Satellites

    Tech savvy teachers and schools. Students create a satellite model to determine which shape will provide a steady minimum current output from solar panels, given a fixed position light source. After, as a group, they will assess whether their satellite model would work in real life and how their actions were similar to what engineers do. An excellent example of the practices of engineering design.
    Benchmarks: 11B/M6, 12B/H1, 12D/M1
  • Design Challenge - Stacking the Satellites

    Tech savvy teachers and schools. This lesson requires fabrication software. This activity continues the Shape of Satellites design and asks students to use fabrication software to determine the optimal size of a satellite which can fit within a given rocket cylinder. An excellent example of the practices of engineering design.
    Benchmarks: 11B/M2, 11B/M6, 12C/M2
  • Design Challenge - Deploying the satellites' antennae

    Tech savvy teachers. This is an activity about using models to solve a problem. Learners will use a previously constructed model of the MMS satellite to determine if the centrifugal force of the rotating MMS model is sufficient to push the satellite's antennae outward, simulating the deployment of the satellites after launch. Then, learners will determine the minimum rotational speed needed for the satellite to successfully deploy the antennae.
    Benchmarks: 11B/E4, 12B/H1, 12C/M7
  • Engineer a Satellite

    Although not pitched to a classroom setting, this is a great activity to address constraints on a problem. Students select the scientific instruments for their satellite, calculate the power requirements for all the subsystems, and construct a scale model of their very own Earth observing satellite using building blocks and/or Legos.
    Benchmarks: 3A/M2