Students, who sent a single Pringle potato chip through the mail using the lightest possible package to protect the chip, open their packages in class.

Engineering is the act of applying science concepts to the creation of something useful such as a package that protects its contents from damaging forces.

This is a project that I present to the class the day before Christmas break, Pringle Project - Day 1, and they have the vacation time to complete it. At this point in the year, students are quite familiar with applying force and Newton's Laws of motion to word problems. Now they apply these concepts in an engineering project, where they sent me a single Pringle potato chip in the mail. The goal is to send the Pringle in the lightest possible package that fully protects it so it doesn't break.

This project is aligned with NGSS HS-ETS1-3, where students "evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs", which in this case is package mass verses protection of the Pringle. Students are encouraged to package their chips and test it out their designs by dropping and banging their package around and opening it to see how their chip holds up. This connects NGSS Science Practice 1: Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering) and Science Practice 3: Planning and carrying out investigations. Understanding force and motion is also important to this project, so also applied is the performance standard HS-PS2-1 Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.

40 minutes

After welcoming the students back from their winter vacation, I inform students that they are to open their Pringle packages today. I call up the students who sent a package one-by-one. They are to bring the Pringle Physics Project rubric with their name on the sheet as I grade their project on the spot. Each student weighs his or her package first and then opens it in a location where I can see him or her. I enter the mass and number of pieces that the Pringle is in on the Pringle Spreadsheet as they open the package. The spreadsheet automatically calculates the students scores using the formula on the rubric. I mark their score right on their copy of the rubric so students can know their score.

This year, 80% of the students managed to protect their pringle and keep it in one piece for its journey through the mail. The average mass of the packages was 34 grams. According to the rubric, 1 piece and 34 grams results in a grade of 80%, which is a B. The lightest successful package had the amazingly low mass of 10.3 grams! To put this in perspective, the pringle itself is nearly 2 grams.

Before the opening begins, I instruct students to either celebrate the success of a whole Pringle surviving the journey, or to commiserate should the chip be in multiple pieces. But never should anyone laugh or mock a fellow student.

10 minutes

Since not all students did the Pringle Package Project, I collect the other projects that students. I provided them with other options, found on the back of the the Pringle Physics Project sheet. Students who want to share with the rest of the class are given the opportunity. Several students usually volunteer for this because they are proud of their work. They come up and display their work using my document camera so the whole class can see their work. Here are a few examples of what students did: clocks run slow, space and time warped, less gravity on moon.

I post most of the student work on a bulletin board outside in the hallway. Half the board has Newton's view of gravity and the other half of the board is Einstein's view of gravity.

These project give a nice preview of the topic of gravity which we cover next. It also provides students a great outlet to show off their artistic and creative talents as well as show the concept of gravity in multiple ways. Overall, showing off these projects is a great way to get students back on track after the long holiday break.