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Lesson Title: Electrodynamic Propulsion
May 11, 2012

Unit: Engineering - Challenges

Grade Levels: 7-9

Connection To Curriculum: Science, Mathematics, Technology and Engineering

Teacher Prep Time: 4-8 hours

Lesson Time Needed: Twelve 45 minutes sessions

Complexity Advanced


Train track with prepared and modified model train
 1 electrically wired HO-gauge passenger car with metal wheels
 1 thin, flat-bladed screwdriver
 2 double-headed alligator clip leads

Magnetic Push Test Stand
 Stack of books about 10 to 12 inches high
 Stiff cardboard platform, the same size as a textbook cover
 1 double-cell battery holder for D cells
 2 D-cell batteries
 3 double-headed alligator clip leads
 1 light bulb holder for a #13 bulb
 1 #13 bulb
 Ruler (centimeter and millimeter markings)
 Velcro (about 1 inch of each side)
 Cellophane tape

Wide Arrangement Card for Magnetic Push Test Stand
 Manila folder strip
 Roll of wire
 Magnetic Push Test Results Sheet
 Film canisters, bottles, markers and other optional shapes to use as cores, around which you will wrap the wire
 Sand paper (1 by 2 inches)

Platform Base to Accept Students' Mounted Wire Assemblies
 Train car, prepared as above
 Sharp scissors
 Sturdy cardboard, about half the size of the train top (can be corrugated cardboard or a heavy-duty report cover)
 About 1 foot of adhesive-backed Velcro-the soft, fuzzy side (loops side)
 Cellophane or more adhesive tape  

This activity challenges your students to solve a real-world problem that is part of the space program using creativity, cleverness and scientific knowledge while learning about electricity, magnetism, forces and energy transfer.

Students will:
• Investigate how different configurations of current-carrying wires behave in the presence of a specific, hand-held magnet.
• Observe a design before testing and pick out the "key features."
• Observe a model during and after testing and document precisely what happens to the model.
• Apply the engineering design process.
• Record observations and organize data so that they can be exchanged with others.

First page of Electrodynamic Propulsion

Lesson Guide
Electrodynamic Propulsion Lesson
[116KB PDF file]



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Lesson Activities and Sequence
The sessions below may be accessed in the NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Electrodynamic Propulsion Educator Guide.

  1. Session 1: Introduction to engineering - introduction to student engineering project, in which students meet a challenge. Introduction of NASA's propulsion challenge and how NASA engineers hope to solve it; and introduction of classroom challenge based on same idea. Introduction of magnet wire, a key material used throughout the challenge project. Explain data recording sheets, journals and culminating activity.
  2. Sessions 2 and 3: Student engineers explore different wire arrangements responses to the cow magnet. Students collect, share and analyze data from this research, identifying promising features to include in their designs. Students also begin to talk about their emerging understanding of the magnetic effect on the wire. Review safety issues found in the guide; introduce the materials and design, build, test, record and share solutions.
  3. Sessions 4 through 8: Students experience the design-test-revise-redesign engineering cycle. They may integrate the Magnetic Push Tests into their design work. As they gain more experience observing the effect of a magnet on a current-carrying wire, they continue to identify some key features to include in their wire arrangements, and consider how mounting the arrangement might affect its performance.
  4. Sessions 9 through 12: Construct a storyboard or poster of final design testing results, sketches, steps throughout development and journals. Students reflect on their ideas about why specific design features help generate a stronger force and move the train. They review their engineering process and develop storyboards to share these insights with others. Finally, students compare their work with the work of engineers at NASA.

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Science as Inquiry
• Understanding of scientific concepts.
• Understanding of the nature of science.
• Skills necessary to become independent inquirers about the natural world.
• Dispositions to use the skills, abilities and attitudes associated with science.
Physical Science
• Position and motion of objects.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, NCTM
Expressions and Equations
• Apply and extend previous understandings of arithmetic to algebraic expressions.
• Reason and solve one-variable equations and inequalities.
• Represent and analyze quantitative relationships between dependent and independent variables.
• Solve real-life and mathematical problems using numerical and algebraic expressions and equations.
• Understand the connections between proportional relationships, lines and linear equations.

ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Students, ISTE
Creativity and Innovation
• Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes.
• Create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
• Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
• Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making
• Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
• Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
• Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
• Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.


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Page Editor: NASA Administrator