Sample Project

Teaching guidelines for reverse engineering
Teaching goal: Learn about how the products we use every day are made, how they work, and what materials are use to make them. 

Ask students to gather old consumer products from their house that they can take apart. Students should get their parents permission because the products may not be usable 
after this project is finished. 

Limit the products students can choose
-Select products that are a good fit for the project: 
    -Choose products that can fit in small bins so that their parts don't get lost during disassembly
    -Choose products that weigh less than 1 pound the board they are mounted on can support them
    -Choose products that can be taken apart with screwdrivers and don't require special tools 
    -Products like calculators or playstation controllers are great to take apart, but they are highly complex and may be overwhelming to understand without adult help

Parts required (click on items to see the included links) 
-Give the students two Sterilite bins one for their product parts and one for their tools

The project should cost less than $10 per student. 
WEB Resources on how to take common products apart and how they work

-Have students work in groups of two, but make sure they each get a chance to take things apart. If it is a simple product you can have the first group member reassemble the product and the second take it apart again
-Try to make sure each product is different in each class (e.g. no class with 2 hair dryers) 
-Limit the extent to which students deconstruct their products. Taking things like motors and switches apart can be very difficult and may make for a messy final presentation board
-Students may want to create an index with part names to make labeling the final product easy 

Common problems
-Products that are difficult to take apart or are not meant to be taken apart without special tools (like disk drives or items that have been glued or welded together) 
-The most common problem is students stripping the heads of tiny screws making them difficult to take out. 
They will need to be careful to press on small screwdrivers while turing them to avoid stripping the top of the screw. 

-Use a glue stick for the labels, hot glue for holding the parts down, and zip ties for holding large/heavy items against the board 

Grading / Understanding 
-Mount the parts in an logical and neatly organized fashion 
-There should be no glue showing around the parts on the board or the labels
-Every part should have a label describing its name, the material it is made out of, how it was made, and what it does
-Every label should be straight and aligned to the edges of the board 
-Each student should wright a 1 page paper on the history of the product they are taking apart. The report should include the inventor of the device, what it is used for and what the student learned by taking it apart.  
-Points should be deducted for boards that are: sloppy, missing parts, missing labels, showing glue, poorly organized or inaccurately labeled 

-The students should present to their peers and the community on what they learned 
-Students should do research to understand how their product works, what it is made out of, how it was made, and why it was made 
-Older students may also write a research paper that details the history of their product and how it works. 

Context Questions
How does the content of the science or engineering class relate to what you have taken apart? 
What principles of engineering were required to make your product work? 

Mentor Relationships 
It's a great to have student's ask their parents, uncles or mentors who are interested for help! 
It's even better if you are able to invite a few interested parents to volunteer to help during the disassembly. 

-Do NOT take apart products that have warnings not to disassemble them (e.g. old CRT televisions or computer monitors-- you could get shocked even when the device is not plugged in)
-Do NOT take apart fragile products that contain glass like light bulbs 
-Do NOT take apart batteries or any products with potentially hazardous chemicals like old mercury thermometers, florescent lights, bug sprayers, aerosol cans etc.
-If you are not sure about a product check with an engineer or technical professional to see if it will be a good fit for the project  
-NEVER plug in a product while it is disassembled (you may want to cut the cord or bend the plug so this is not an option) 
-Always wear safety glasses when taking products apart as springs could pop out 
-Make sure heavy parts that weigh more than a few ounces (like motors) are mounted to the board using zip ties that go through the foam core board (not hot glue) so they won't fall off and hurt anyone if the board is mounted on a wall
-There are other potential areas of risk with disassembling projects. The user of this page assumes all risks and liabilities.