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School of Engineering

Early engineering education

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
A team of mechanical engineering students designed and built an educational water table to help young children understand electrical concepts.
Four mechanical engineering majors pose with their educational water table.
The team with their prototype water table.

In Assistant Professor Kristen Wendell’s Senior Design Project class, teams of mechanical engineering students work with clients to develop capstone projects that will apply engineering science principles and utilize design theory and practice. One group recently created an educational water table for an early childhood makerspace at the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School.

Designed and built by seniors Elizabeth Buechler, Lauren McIsaac, Meredith Reynolds, and Eleanor Wright, the water table is intended to help 5-7 year olds gain an intuitive understanding of electrical concepts using an electricity-water analogy. Electricity can be an abstract concept for a young child to grasp, and the table uses tools like a maze and a water wheel to explain concepts such as voltage, current, resistance, and capacitance.

The students closely considered safety, educational experience, usability, durability, and affordability as they developed their concept. After an extensive design process, the team constructed the water table from PVC pipe and plastic bins, with each bin focusing on a different electrical concept. From doing CAD modeling to programming Arduinos to performing finite element analysis, the team saw the project through from concept to execution.

The final products of the class were a working prototype, a 50-page report on the design and construction process, and an educational booklet to be used as a guide for educators, along with the critical hands-on experience of designing and building a project from start to finish. Reflecting on the semester's project, the team says, “We were excited to work with our clients Amanda and Miki [from the Eliot-Pearson School] to bring to life ideas for the early childhood makerspace. It was a lot of fun to see all of the great work done by our classmates throughout the semester.”