These Engineering Ed Projects are Our Kind of Hacks

Highly polished all-in-one gear for teaching STEM is one way to approach the problem. But for some, they can be intimidating and the up-front expenditure can be a barrier to just trying something before you’re certain you want to commit. [Miranda] is taking a different approach with the aim of making engineering education possible with junk you have around the house. The point is to play around with engineering concepts with having to worry about doing it exactly right, or with exactly the right materials. You know… hacking!

On display at her Maker Faire Bay Area booth were numerous builds built common goods you likely have on hand. I quite enjoyed seeing the tentacle made of out popsicle sticks, glue, straws, and some string. It’s pretty cool to hold onto one end and pull the string to roll up the appendage, and provides the most basic intro to fabrication and robotics concepts. Think back to some of your earliest empowering moments when you realized you didn’t need purpose-built things like LEGO to build stuff. You can build using anything!

Most popular at the booth is a set of electric banjos. They’re nothing more than a fingerboard, strings, and a piezo element. Connect to a small Radio Shack amp/speaker combo and you get a pretty good sound out of them. [Miranda] added a 3D printed fret board which she plans to make available for those who don’t want to fabricate their own fret system. Along with those, there is a DJ mixing board that used old CDs placed on bottle caps to swivel and have salvage tactile switches underneath to give them interactivity.

There’s a ton to look at on her collection of guides. She gave me a demonstration of her Harry Potter themed wands, one which shoots water and the other that shoots BBs. These would make perfect summer projects to take on one the kids are out of school. There are plans to get a subscription kit biz up and running at some point in the future but the instructions for the builds will always be available free.

23 thoughts on “These Engineering Ed Projects are Our Kind of Hacks

  1. I am buried (not really but it seems like it sometimes) under piles of ‘might come in useful’ stuff, plastic and cardboard packaging and broken things that I intend to re-make. The line between maker and hoarder is a thin one.

    1. I too have a box of “electronic bits and peices I’d love to use in a project but really don’t have the time or skill to do so” – I just limit myself to this one box, there’s also 2 boxes of ‘Computer parts I can use” which to be fair, I can use as I have the appropriate skills required.

      Making sure I don’t just keep things that are of no practical use for me, or far beyond the skills I can expect to acquire is hard tho!

    2. I call my box the ‘circuit boards to desolder components from’ box, such that the box vanishes and everything ends up in the appropriate components drawers. But it’s really the ‘circuit boards I look for components on as I need them’ box instead.
      Nice hacks. I’ve always wanted to do some sort of fingerboard with piezos.

    1. Some companies have made literally billions off of “hacking” male anatomy. They even sell implantable pumps. Somebody had to hack / engineer those products too. And yes, the title was probably intentionally clickbait.

  2. Hacking together stuff you find around the house to build cheap, rough, but working proof-of-concept prototypes is a fantastic skill to teach and one that will serve students far better than single-use prepackaged (and expensive) “kits”. Kudos to Miranda for sharing her efforts with the community.

  3. Good work!
    The joys of being a Teacher or Aunt/Uncle “Here’s a toy that makes an ungodly amount of noise, now go home and show your parents”

    I remember going to a few museums that had areas where you could deconstruct and (optionally) make something cool from donated electronics. Sometimes just being allowed to take things apart is enough to get kids interested. You don’t even have to have anyone explain how it works, just seeing all the components is impressive to a young person.

  4. I’ve never understood this need to create a false dichotomy between ‘hacking’ and ‘engineering’. They are two points on the same line, and not even very far apart. Even if you’re working with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in a state-of-the-art facility, you’re first proof of concept in a new endeavor is going to be a hack, because you’re combining things in new and untested ways (even if they’re only new to you). And you should revel in it and enjoy it, because that level of freedom and experimental agency is necessarily attenuated as you approach the end goal.

    These women are clearly enjoying it, and celebrating it, and owning the hell out of it. Nicely done.

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