Young Engineers of Today Spring Lab 5: PVC Trebuchet Part 2

Monday and Tuesday night were a blur of excitement, cheering, design genius, design flaws, and more. We had our 5th lab for Young Engineers of Today Monday and Tuesday night. What we attempted to accomplish was both daunting and fantastic.

This lab was part 2 of our PVC trebuchet project. In our 4th lab we started the drafting, prototyping, and making of our trebuchets. This lab our goal was to finish.

Our agenda for the lab was as follows

1. Recap our 4th lab and what we learned

2. Discuss future labs and where we are headed

3. Finish building trebuchets

4. Make launching mechanism and projectile

5. Test out and dial in our trebuchets

6. Come back and build a second one so each student can take one home

Students worked in pairs when designing the trebuchets. For many this was their first time measuring, drafting, cutting, using saws, assembling PVC, and understanding the science to projectiles. I covered most of this during our lab 4 so I won’t repeat it all. Going back to the goals of the night we had a lot to cover.

The students were amazing. They instantly got back to work on their trebuchets to fine tune everything and remember where they left off. We have lab every two weeks so this can be a problem with remembering. They went right to work making final cuts, tweaking their design, and ensuring it was ready to go. They all added the hanger piece to add to the projectile, assembled the PVC cap/duct tape/string projectile and about 35 minutes later we were all ready to go test. I did not have them start making the second trebuchet because if their first design did not work, then there is no point to build another.

One night we tested in the gym and the second lab students had to go outside to test. I thought testing would be a breeze, but I was wrong. Once again I am shocked and reminded why this program is so vital for student thinking and problem solving. They are masters of understanding science, formulas, games, apps, and simulations. However, when it comes to the real world and actually making and doing they struggle. Once again I was asked questions like I cannot measure 42 inches with a yardstick. How do I get to 42 inches? Simple little tips and ideas that we take for granted come to light when making ideas come to life.

I gave them advice for factors to adjust the hanger piece, the throw arm length, the amount of force used(we used human force as we did not have enough barbells), and projectile position. It took about 10-15 minutes for them to finally get a good launch.

When the projectile smacked the ground in front of them, fell off, shot backward, or shot upwards they froze. I think they thought it would work perfectly. They would look at me hoping I would fix it. I gave them suggestions and had them try again. And when it worked you could just see the happiness and excitement. There was such a buzz for learning that I cannot describe it in words. You could feel it in the air. Then once it worked once they started tweaking to find out how to go farther, higher, and to be the best!

What I was most impressed with more than anything was how they helped one another. A group would struggle and another student would come over to help. They were sharing their learning, their tips, ideas and just promoting the whole DIT(Do It Together) mentality of making and engineering.

After tweaking and making sure they all worked, we went back to the room and started to make the second copy. It is important every student takes home their learning and projects. We want them to keep learning at home beyond the lab. We want them taking pictures and videos of their learning. They went to work making a ton of new cuts and measuring. They also strengthened the joints with duct tape. We did not glue in case the trebuchets would not fit in the cars.

All in all this was another great lab. This semester I have really fallen in love with the class and these students. I see so many great ideas and moments of learning. Some of these students have really grown up and come a long way in a few months.

Last, I want to share this other video of some of the test launches. The reason I am showing this is to clear the air. First, none of these were taped or glued as we were simply testing at this time with different arms and designs. Once they got things dialed in they glued and taped. Second, I want the world to see that these student worked vigorously to make it work. How often in schools do we give kids one chance? There were failures, setbacks, parts falling off, failed launches and yet the students persevered until we were rocking launches of 50 – 100 feet with a very lightweight projectile. I could not be more proud. I share this so you can see the determination students can have when they are invested in the learning. Also, you can hear and see the excitement for their learning as well!

Now, I just need to finish my trebuchet which is going to be launched from my phone using littleBits. I just need more time in the day.

In our next lab we will begin soldering and programming robotic hands and start 3D printing our checker pieces where we will make molds of our designs.

Stay tuned!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Young Engineers of Today Spring Lab 4: PVC Trebuchet


For lab this week we have one more final ancient engineering challenge. Students have been studying all sorts of CAD programming. The last few weeks in webinars they have been studying TinkerCad, SketchUp, and Inkscape.

While they develop their learning and start to craft their new skills we cannot really do a 3D Printing lab. It is only exciting to watch the printer for about 5 minutes. As they get ready to design their 3D prints for a materials lab coming up in Lab #6 we are working through another engineering project.

We launched into PVC trebuchets. Students were not given instructions. We want them to design their device. The challenge is who can be the King of Fling?

You can see from the slides that I did give them some parameters. I shared with them the measurements to make a trebuchet that looked like the one in my room. I had built a much larger version, but if they wanted to use the measurements to build one that assembled like the one I built they could.

However, students did not have to use those measurements. We started lab with paper and pencils. Students had to sketch out their plans with measurements before anything could happen. Even if they used my measurements on the slides they still had to map out all the pieces.


Second, students then had to figure out the proper cuts. They were given 2 x 10ft pieces of PVC. They had to figure out which pieces fit to get them all cut out using only those. If you do the math of all the pieces suggested we are over 16 inches. I had already precut 2 x 2 in and 1 x 12 inch pieces for them. The rest they had to figure out. They were told if they mess up, then they will have to problem solve to make it work as they would not get any extra pieces. I gave the hint that the solution to a bad cut or not thinking it through would result in a much smaller trebuchet. This was enough for the to plan.


What I was most impressed with was how many took this serious. This proves that the classes and labs are starting to sink in with proper thinking, problem solving and prototyping.

Now, I know you are thinking that this seems like an easy project. What you need to understand is something I am learning. Students do not know how to use tools. This is why YEOT is vital. We are forcing students to take their ideas and knowledge that they are learning whether in this class or at school and bring it to life. Students rarely get this chance. They learn some formulas, they design on paper or computers, but it typically stops there. Students in YEOT are taking it to the next step to actually make their ideas. Students had to be taught how to use a hacksaw, how to handle the PVC, how to measure with a yardstick, etc.


A perfect example is this situation. This is not a knock to the student, but to the lack of real world application taking place in education. One of the pieces needed to be 42 inches. I only provided students with yardsticks. A group came up to me and said it was impossible to cut a 42 inch piece. I asked why? They told me that it was impossible to measure 42 when “the stick” only went to 36. I told them there was a solution and honestly they brainstormed for a few minutes and could not figure it out. I had to show them how to mark 36 inches and then measure another 6. These are intelligent kids, but this shows how minimal their life application of their knowledge is in their lives.

People fear mistakes. They fear tools. They fear that students might get hurt. This is part of self discovery and growth.

As the nights went on we made some great headway. Most groups have the frame completed. Most have the throw arm ready. We are now left to make the sling, test the trebuchets to dial them in, and then glue them together. This will most likely be a two lab project because without instructions they must problem solve.


In the end we have about 6 different designs. Some will work and some won’t. I have not told the ones who will not work that they have issues. They need to learn on their own. I have questioned their ideas and gave hints, but in the end they might just surprise all of us and have the best. I have seen this happen more times than not.


It was a great two days of labs with so much learning and hands on experience. Despite the chaos and mess this might be my favorite lab so far. I cannot wait for two more weeks to launch these bad boys!


What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Young Engineers of Today: Spring Lab 3: Soldering 101

A few weeks back we had our third lab for Spring 2015 Young Engineers of Today. The goal of the lab was to teach soldering to all of our students. I have over 20 students in this semester class so to make sure I can help each student learn and to adhere to safety we have broken up our labs into two nights.

I spend two nights during the week of labs working with the students in a small group setting. We max our number at 15 so I can make sure that I can help along the way and the environment is safe and conducive to learning.

Here is the basic slidedeck to give you an idea of the night.

We start the lab explaining what solder and the soldering process is and the purposes for why we need to know how to solder. After explaining the basics of this process and why it is important and helpful we go through safety.

We tell them this very true statement

[Tweet “2 Types of people who solder. Those who have been burned and those that will get burned.”]

After going through safety we jump into easy soldering by soldering two wires in an X pattern using the helping hand. Then we move to parallel wire soldering and how to move the solder along a joint.


After that we move into making a paperclip man. This requires students to solder joints and it does not matter if they mess up because the cost is minimal. It also forces them to use their clippers to cut the paperclips.

IMG_1538 IMG_1557

At this point they start to feel confident so I give them some old PCB boards and resistors and show them how to solder these joints. This gives them fits as they either put too much on, burn the boards, or want to put solder on the solder tip and then dab the board. They really struggle using both hands to hold solder, the solder iron, and lining it up to the joint.


I also think it is important to teach how to desolder so I have them attempt to remove the resistor using their solder wicks. They realize it is not as easy as they think and I hope they figure out that they want to pay attention and reduce how many mistakes they make. It is a great lesson that they have to learn on their own and sometimes the only way to learn is the hard way.

At this point we are over an hour into lab. I give them their Weevil kit from Sparkfun and tell them to get this done before lab is over. I remind them to read instructions and install pieces correctly. It amazes me that no matter how many times you tell them to slow down, read instructions, and pay attention to detail…..they don’t!


This is the powerful learning of this program. I don’t come to the rescue and solve their problems. They must learn on their own. So, if they mess up they must develop the skills and thinking process to make it right. I work with them to find out how to solve the problem. I tell you what, when you have them desolder their joint one time(it is a pain in the butt for them) they usually pay more attention. It is a Tough Love teaching approach, but it is vital for them to learn these traits. They must learn to solve their own problems. This entire program is about developing a toolkit for life situations.

In the end we had every single one of them leave successful except for one student. I will work with him to get him on track. It was a great night. Even the students who soldered last semester gained new skills and insight.


This lab was more skill based, but it will pay off when we begin our robotic hand project in about a month.

Here are more pictures for you to view if you want to see more work in action.

If you want to learn more check out our page

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (2)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Siege Weapon Contest: Launch it! Make Improvements! Launch It Again!

Siege Weapon Contest

   Launch it!   Make Improvement!  Launch It Again!  

Are you ready for a challenge? It is time to gather supplies sitting around your house and assemble your ancient weapon for battle!

You have some options

1. Build one of the siege weapons from Mini Weapons Of Mass Destruction – Siege Warfare. Take it straight from the book or tweak it to make your own!

2. Design your own from scratch based on your learning from webinars and labs of Young Engineers of Today

3. Combine a little bit of everything from the book, your mind, online examples, etc.

The key is to apply our learning to make something AWESOME!

The contest starts today and ends next Monday, Feb 9th. by midnight eastern time.

In order to be considered for an award and one of the prizes you will need to do the following

1. Submit photos and/or video of your design to The more the merrier to help us see your thinking, learning, and design process.

In your email please provide the following

  • Email Title: Seige Weapon Contest
  • Email Body:
    • Attach any video or images. You can link video if size is too large.
    • Your Name
    • Your location
    • Your Age
    • Are you YEOT or non YEOT

2. Once submitted we will be looking at the following criteria to be judged equally:

  • Fit and finish of your final siege weapon
  • Siege weapon construction difficulty
  • Improvement of the original design
  • Documentation

So, knowing this make sure your photos and video provide us an honest look at these categories. Document your journey and results from your build!

Mr. Dubick(the guru) and myself(the apprentice) will decide on the winners. Winners will pick from the following two prizes:


Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.17.32 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.17.46 AM

There will be two categories of participants: 12 and younger and 13 and older (as of Feb 9th)

As a bonus to anyone who wants to enter that is not currently enrolled in Young Engineers of Today I will provide one winner the following kits we used in our first lab.

Here in Iowa we have a snow day, over a foot of snow, and sub zero temps. It is a perfect time to get started.

What are you waiting for? Get building and we look forward to your designs and action shots.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Young Engineers of Today: Spring 2015 Lab 2 – Ancient Engineering

Last night we had another awesome lab! Due to some scheduling conflicts we had one massive lab of 23 students. This is our last time all together before splitting into two labs of smaller groups. The lab was perfect for all of us to get together as we could connect with one another, share ideas, and brainstorm new inventions.

We used the book Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 3 which I highly recommend as it hooks the kids interest and really gets them thinking about engineering in a fun and exciting way.

We started out with a few simple projects as you can see in the slidedeck shared below. I highly suggested they all start with the Tic Tac Catapult. I bought all the materials for this build along with the Tic Tacs. I stressed that they could eat their Tic Tacs, but if they eat them all they would be out of ammo.

I will stress that I don’t like to be a “strict in charge instructor”. Right away a few kids wanted to build the other options and a few wanted to tinker and design their own. I highly encouraged them to at least do the suggested catapult and then move to other projects so that they all walk away with one success project. However, I don’t want to stifle excitement so if they really wanted to experiment and try something I told them to go for it.

This was a powerful lab for many of them. Most of these amazing and awesome kids are not used to failure, mistakes, and things not working on the first try.

Last night they discovered

  • if you don’t follow instructions things might not work
  • your ideas in your brain might not work in reality
  • you have to try new things
  • wonder what would if I ……… (then do it and find out!)
  • you have to do your own thing and not have your hand held
  • sometimes things just don’t work
  • sometimes you will make mistakes
  • sometimes you will break things

All of these events happened and they are powerful learning opportunities. I talked with all the kids at the end of lab about the process of engineering and problem solving. Life is to learn from our experiments and figure out how to make things work. Often times things don’t work and that is not considered failure, but a learning opportunity. I love it when kids try and keep trying.


Unfortunately, some had a hard time. Talking with one they felt devastated and did not want to keep trying. We talked about all the things above. I suggested to him to go back to the Tic Tac catapult and start there. It is always important to build the confidence. Next year I will require the Tic Tac catapult and then move to innovation and design.

I take this moment as a powerful learning tool and a notch in development for students to grow. We don’t always grow through success because we will keep doing the same thing. When things don’t work we have to adapt, change, modify, and tweak ideas and skills to make things work. The power of lab is to create conditions for success and also for errors to occur to allow students skills to develop. My overall goal is for students to learn that mistakes are embraced and through our continuous development of our problems solving skills we can find the answers we want. I want them to feel successful and learn that perseverance, integrity, and grit along with the skill-sets mentioned above create not only a quality engineer, but a productive person.


I loved last night. I loved the excitement of students. I loved watching them get so jacked up when their creations worked. We had Tic Tacs being launched everywhere and if we did not have a low ceiling they would have been flying 50 feet easily.

It was a great night and I just love this group of young engineers and seeing where their minds take us.

Check out a recap of the night

Here is the short slidedeck from the lab



What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Young Engineers of Today: Spring 2015 Lab 1 – Catapults


We had our first lab for Young Engineers of Today last night and it was a blast. For this first lab we had all students together due to some logistics and scheduling. We had 22 students at class ready and eager to learn.

One thing I learned from the fall semester was starting with a project that they can build successfully in one lab. We need their confidence to boost right away.

The first lab we build a catapult using a kit. It required zero tools, but was very important in teaching them the following:

1. Following directions

2. Reading and processing designs and layouts

3. Patience

4. Learning how to do things by themselves

So often in school we spoonfeed students to the point where they don’t believe that they can do anything on their own. This program challenges students to do things on their own. It challenges them to learn to deal with issues when they try and it does not work. Now, we do help as needed and don’t just let them struggle all night.

Last night after going over procedures, introductions, and labeling our tools we started the kit. After some brief tips I set them free to build. I was reminded about how important this program is when I heard a student say, “So he is just going to let us do by ourselves without making us stay together?”

This was said with excitement. They were eager to be on their own and try.

By the end of the night we had 20/22 students catapults completed. We will finish the other two in our lab next week and continue to build some more ancient engineering devices.

It was a great start and really looking forward to working with these students this semester.



Slidedeck from lab 

Learn more about the program 


What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Make Your Own Jaw Snapping Pumpkin

The other day I posted a video of my latest project of a pumpkin who has a jaw that opens and closes.

This project is one of three projects that we have worked on in our Young Engineers of Today class that we run in the evenings and online through webinars.

Many have asked me how I made this pumpkin. Instead of writing up step by step directions I created a video as I find that to work best. I hope you find this helpful. If you have questions let me know.

I cannot wait to share with you what the students create in lab next week.

Here is an image of the wiring using 123D Circuits

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.29.00 AM


UPDATE: Here are other pictures of the pumpkin process and a simpler way of wiring.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Snapping Jaws Jack O Lantern Using Arduino and Sparkfun

Here is my latest build for our Young Engineers of Today program. I had to tweak the original idea to make it work, but I am happy with the result.

Instructions coming soon

For now, enjoy this little clip

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Electric Tree: A #YEOT Project


Many people have asked me about the electric tree project that students are making in our Young Engineers of Today program that I run with Thomas Dubick out of North Carolina. As we continue to share our ideas I thought it might be helpful to create a little tutorial on how to make one.

This video will give you what you need. If you have questions please let me know.

This is a tutorial to learn how to make the electric tree. This project is really quite simple, but challenging at the same time if you are not used to soldering. We use this project with our students in Young Engineers of Today to help them learn to solder along with having fun and making a really cool project to take home.

This project comes after our first project of creating and building an Adjustable Power Supply from Adafruit. We work on this project alongside our robotic pumpkin project in the month of October.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

#YEOT Open Labs 3 and 4: Power Supply, Electric Tree, and Pumpkins

The month of October has been so awesome with the amount of learning taking place with Young Engineers of Today. Between the webinars twice a week where Thomas Dubick is teaching students programming with our Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit teaching them how to program with Arduino to moving towards hands on learning in the labs we have had a lot of success.

One key idea that has permeated throughout them all is that learning can be messy and at time not fun. When things don’t work we tend to get frustrated. However, with a bit of grit and perseverance we work through those issues and that is when the learning takes place. It is hard to understand when you are in the moment. It can be difficult to see your child struggle with concepts, but that is how learning develops. Many of the students school comes easy. School is different than learning in my opinion. Students are starting to recognize that if you want to improve in something than it takes time to practice and not only UNDERSTAND concepts, but to APPLY them with projects. This is the key shift in learning. I can memorize facts all day, but if I cannot utilize them into creating something for myself, then what is the use?

The last few weeks we have been focusing in programming for our Arduino. Students have been working with Thomas through the webinars. This is just the start. These webinars are designed to plant the seeds. It is laying the foundation and groundwork for them to take their learning to the next level.

For example, in our last lab we provided students with a little pumpkin. They had to carve out the pumpkin in half and I would assume most of them have never carved a pumpkin. From there we did some soldering of wires to LED lights for eyes. Many were able to complete this without much difficultly. Now the APPLICATION comes in their programming to their Arduino. How will the lights turn on? Will they program the eyes to use sensors like light/dark or ultrasonic when some walks by? Will the eyes blink? This is where they can apply and have their own voice in their learning. This is the beauty of YEOT. We will also show them how to add a servo motor inside the pumpkin so the jaws chomp down. What else will they create? Only time will tell.

To back up a bit we restructured the month of October. We have students in various places of learning. We adjusted and I opened up a third lab. This month there will be three labs where the goals are to complete

1. Adjustable Power Supply

2. Electric Trees

3. Robotic Pumpkins

By the end of the month the students will have these three projects completed and ready to go for our November projects. What I love about YEOT is that not only are the students learning, but I am learning as we go. I see the need for challenging myself as a learner. I see the need for students to have hands on learning. I see the need for them to learn how to problem solve. I see the need for them to work with the moments of struggling. I see the need for more students to have these types of experiences.

Below are pictures from the last two labs. We have on more lab in two weeks where I will post completed projects as well as their digital portfolios. Until then check out their power supplies, their electric trees(this is an awesome project) and the start to their pumpkins.

I will be adding tutorials, videos, links, and more in the following week so you can learn more about these projects.

IMG_1648 IMG_1649 IMG_1650 IMG_1571

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)