Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Icebreaker: People Bingo

Next to "People Recipe Cards," "People Bingo" is one of my favorite icebreaker activities. Generally, I even enjoy partaking in the activity myself because it can lead to some interesting conversation about sometimes quirky things.

For those that are unfamiliar with the icebreaker, you start with a blank "game board" (I usually do 5x5 on a normal letter-sized sheet of paper) and fill in each of the squares with a trait or fact that a person may have or relate to such as "Likes to dance" or "Has a little sibling." It proved to be simple to come up with half of the board, but by the time I was on my last 5 squares, I was trying pretty hard to come up with things that the students could relate to (you can also include squares that only apply to you -- I put in "Is a college student" just so that some of the kids would be forced to come up to me if they wished to fill up their board).

As you create your game board, make sure to keep some white space below the "trait" so that the players have enough room to write names down.

To begin the icebreaker, give each student a game board (you can participate yourself, too) and tell them that they need to find someone who fulfills one of the squares (so, if a student approached me with their board, I would tell them that I was a college student and sign my name in the box). You can either play using normal "Bingo" rules (5 boxes vertically/horizontally across or 5 boxes diagonally) or challenge them to try to fill up as many boxes as possible without repeating names (works really well with larger groups and some may realize that they need to strategize in order to fill up all of the boxes).

When the activity was over, I asked a couple of students to introduce someone that was on their board and the fact about them.

I felt like the activity was pretty well received by the students... plus it let them shed some of that pent up energy from a full day of school by walking around.

More to come soon!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Breaking the Ice

One of the hardest challenges of working with any group is breaking the ice of uncomfortable small talk and awkward silences. Admittedly, I always hated icebreakers and cringed at the thought that I had to participate in something so forced and unnatural -- why not just let us free to bounce off one another as molecules do in chemical reactions? After all, the desire to meet someone leads to a more meaningful relationship, right?

Turns out that some of my most meaningful friendships and relationships were a result of forced interaction. Even though it's painfully awkward situation to put yourself out there, most of the time it is completely necessary in order to forge a connection. Anyway, the purpose of this post was not to get into my own personal interactions, but to share some of the successful (or moderately successful) icebreakers I used with the middle schoolers.

Here's the quick and dirty list:
  1. People Bingo
  2. Lines of Conversation
  3. People Recipe Cards
  4. Silent Order (by first name, birth day, age... etc)
  5. Math Game (which then can change to Rock, Paper Scissors)
I will give more details about each in an update -- but I could go on forever reflecting on how these icebreakers enhanced group work and interaction between the students.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


(Sorry, there's only one image for this post -- I got so caught up in running the earlier sessions that I kept forgetting to pull my camera out!)

Admittedly, I was ridiculously excited for the Hovercraft activity, but a bit skeptical about how well it would work. It didn't seem possible to make something mobile (and fun for the kids) out of just bottle tops (with the caps), hot glue guns, CDs and balloons!

Once again, I grabbed this project from (entitled "Hovercraft Racers"), but this time I did not tweak it. I decided it might be a little too dangerous and time consuming to have the students use the hot glue guns and a drill, so I prepared the bottle caps and CDs beforehand (see below for the product of 2 hours of cutting, drilling and gluing).

The only thing the kids really had to do to complete the hovercraft was stretch the balloon over the bottle cap (which proved to be relatively difficult for some of them). Afterwards, I had them complete a worksheet probing whether or not they realized how adding a pocket of air underneath the CD (from the balloons), the friction between the CD and the table is eliminated. Most of them reasoned it out and we discussed the matter.

For next semester, I will most likely add another short activity to this one since it didn't take as long as I had expected it to.

More updates to come soon!

Monday, January 10, 2011


I apologize for going out of order in describing the club's activities, but I just couldn't contain my excitement for the innovative ideas my students had for the Watercraft challenge I posed to them last Monday. The students were given a "budget" of $50 to spend on specific materials below.

Each item was also given a specific cost.

5 (five) straws - $10
12 (twelve) inches duct tape - $5
1 (one) paper cup - $5
10 (ten) inches of Saran wrap - $5

Then after explaining the situation, I asked if they could (in groups) design a watercraft to fit within a specified bin (pictures to come later) that can hold 25 pennies, 50 pennies, 100 pennies or 150 pennies. Furthermore, I told them that the group that could hold the most pennies and was built with the least amount of money would win extra prize candy.

Since this is an engineering club, I asked if they could try to follow the beloved design process and noticed interesting ideas at the brainstorming stage.

After trying to settle a couple of disagreements within groups (I usually assign groups to split friends up and mix 7th and 8th graders, but sometimes they refuse to work with one another) and trying to convince my two volunteers that they were supposed to be the adults (I found them at the supplies table trying to build their own Watercrafts), the students came up with some very innovative ideas.

This group (above) realized after the first round of testing that their craft required very careful placement of the pennies, or it would flip over.

This group (above) started with this craft flipped over -- when I told them that I would not be taking the pennies out of the Ziploc bags, they returned back to their table to see if they could improve their design. When they came back for the second round of testing, I found their craft flipped over (it worked too!).

I believe that this activity was definitely my best work -- it was adapted from DesignSquad shown on PBS (the material list was directly from the website), but after sleeping on it, I decided to make it more realistic by adding a material/monetary constraint. After all, that is the reality of engineering today.

More to come soon!

Encourage the Future Generation of Engineers!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


My name is Amanda Xi and I plan and facilitate the Ypsilanti Middle School (YMS) Engineering club. In addition to running the weekly club, I am a full-time Master's student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Secretary for both the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Epeians Engineering Leadership Honors Society. I also love knitting and indulge by donating my knitted items to Scarves With A Purpose (SWAP). If you're interested in learning more about my numerous extracurricular activities, feel free to email me at

While blogging about any of my extracurricular activities could prove to be interesting, I wanted to provide a resource for other educators interested in encouraging and inspiring young minds to learn about engineering. Most of the activities I use for the club are from websites such as, but I wanted to supplement the information with how the students reacted and ways that I plan on improving the activity for the next semester. Furthermore, I wanted to record my [many] thoughts and feelings as I planned and implemented each session.

A little background on my teaching experience -- I started tutoring in middle school when my [favorite] math teacher asked if I would donate my lunch hour to assisting a small group of my peers. I happily agreed and after a year, was recognized with a local service award. Honestly, I cannot say I remember the details of the tutoring sessions [it has been almost a decade!], but I do remember the great sense of gratitude I felt toward my teacher for introducing me to the other side of education. I continued to tutor in high school [Chemistry and Spanish] then proceeded to drop out after my Sophomore year to attend Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. My teaching experience expanded as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for an Introductory Biology course and as a subject tutor for numerous mathematics courses [Calculus I - IV, Linear Algebra].

After two years, I transferred into the Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Michigan. Following two semesters of adjusting to the new environment (liberal arts to engineering, ~400 students to ~40,000 students, etc.), I decided to jump back into tutoring. Sometime toward the end of my second semester, I saw an email from Dr. Deborah Ball [Dean, School of Education] about recruitment for the Elementary Mathematics Laboratory (EML) clinic. EML is a two-week program that acts as a forum for educators and mathematicians to convene and discuss how to best teach and prepare fifth-graders struggling in conventional classroom mathematics. The clinic is an hour-long, one-on-one tutoring session between a college student and fifth grader. In the summer of 2009, I volunteered as a tutor for a bright, young girl and was touched by the experience. She looked up to me and trusted that I would help her mind fully comprehend the concepts that Dr. Ball discussed earlier in the day. Her dramatic improvement and intelligence truly inspired me to continue with the program. The following summer, I returned to assist Dr. Meghan Shaughnessy with the clinic.

One morning of the 2010 EML program, I received an email about open College of Engineering Outreach and Engagement Teaching Fellows positions. While I applied and interviewed for one of the teaching fellows positions, my schedule as a Master's student didn't match with what the position requirements and I was directed to consider the Engineering Club appointment. The club seemed to match my interests so I pursued the opportunity. I was soon offered the position and happily began brainstorming for each of the eight sessions.

There are a total of eight sessions over the course of the semester and I will be running the same activities for a new group next semester. Originally, I wanted to start blogging at the onset of planning, but couldn't find the time. Either way, four sessions have already occurred and the fifth & sixth sessions will be tomorrow and Tuesday.

Look forward to more updates soon!