Discover engineering! through the TechXcite bionic arm module

A Series of articles focusing on science, engineering and technology concepts using TechXcite modules will be available through a partnership between Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering and Michigan State University Extension.

Expand your child’s interest and abilities in science, engineering and technology by getting them involved in a TechXcite program.  According to National 4-H Science, America faces a future of intense global competition with a startling shortage of scientists. In fact, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) only 18 percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in science. A mere five percent of current U.S. college graduates earn science, engineering or technology degrees compared to 66 percent in Japan and 59 percent in China.  The TechXcite program and partnership between Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering and Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development program is an effort to help improve these statistics.

The TechXcite program contains ready to use modules that contain curriculum, supplies and hands-on activities.  Each module takes approximately four to five hours to complete with a total of four to six lessons within each module.  Activities are based on specific concepts that build upon each other.  Lessons are designed for middle school aged youth, yet can be adapted to serve youth ages nine to 19.  This article will focus on the bionic arm module.

In this module, your child will experience hands on explorations which includes, “how does it feel to have the loss of a limb?”  They will practice using the sense of touch through a loss of limb simulation while they are unable to use their sense of sight.  They experiment with air (pneumatic) versus liquid (hydraulic) pressure systems.  They create each system and compare/contrast how each works to create a desired movement.  Construction of the arm includes use of specified materials and allows your child to learn how to read and follow directions while working through the engineering design process to solve a problem.  Then, they will choose which system or systems to use within their constructed bionic arm to create the highest angle of movement while staying within the engineering design constraints and use of a specified amount of time.  Your child will work to create a closed circuit to learn about how to incorporate a sensor within their arm.

Your child will have the opportunity to work together with their peers to complete these activities and to solve problems.  Groups then share their experiences with the larger group by presenting what they observed and experienced while creating and testing their bionic arm.  Facilitation by adult leaders helps presenters to explain what worked well, what didn’t work well and what they would do differently the next time to improve their design.   Because each group uses their own ideas, every design is unique and presents specific strengths and weaknesses. They are able to learn from each other while they all work toward a common goal.  The design constraints provide real world examples that engineers experience in the field.

Check out MSU Extension’s events calendar to see if this opportunity exists in your community.  Look for the next article on the TechXcite Rainwater Harvesting module coming soon!  To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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