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How Does It Work? Using Toys To Inspire Wonder And Develop Critical Thinking Skills In Fluids Mechanics

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Teaching Mechanical Systems: What's New

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.648.1 - 15.648.16



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Paper Authors


Camilla Saviz University of the Pacific

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Camilla M. Saviz is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of the Pacific. She received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University, an M.B.A. from the New York Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Davis in the area of hydrodynamic and water quality modeling. She joined the University of the Pacific in 1999 and is a registered Professional Engineer in California. Her current research interests include sustainable engineering and engineering education.

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Said Shakerin University of the Pacific

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Said Shakerin is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where has been since 1986. He was educated as a Mechanical Engineer at Arya-Mehr (now Sharif) University of Technology in Iran and Portland State University, Oregon State University, and Colorado State University in the US. He is a registered Professional Engineer in California, and served as department chairman in the 1990s but stepped down due to a medical condition. His interests include development of demonstration devices for informal science education and design of water fountains with special effects.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

“How Does It Work?”: Using Toys to Inspire Wonder and Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Fluid Mechanics


Many students have owned or seen wave-maker toys, in which two immiscible fluids in a closed container can be tilted to generate waves. These types of inexpensive and readily available toys can offer benefits in support of technical education in addition to their primary function as tools for fun and entertainment. They can help inspire a sense of wonder about fluid behavior (generally expressed as: “Hey, that’s pretty cool!”). However, when used as part of a class, these toys can also help students develop their observation and critical thinking skills by considering questions such as “How does it work?” and “Why does it behave the way it does?” Answering these questions requires students to examine the fluid materials in the toys very closely and to observe a familiar object in a potentially new and unfamiliar way.

In this paper, we describe several such toys that can be used to enhance student learning in Fluid Mechanics courses. Several of these toys demonstrate fundamental properties including density and viscosity. The toys can also be used to demonstrate more complex fluid behavior including drop formation and coalescence, effects of boundary shear stress, and Karman vortices. Furthermore, the toys can be used a interesting displays for outreach and informal science education.

The paper includes suggestions on how the toys can be incorporated into a class for demonstrations, group exercises, or assignments and includes discussion of some formative assessment of student learning. References to the toys and other relevant web sites are provided to assist educators who are interested in using such tools to enhance student learning.


Classroom demonstrations add to students’ interest and their understanding of the subject matter. Many references are available that describe demonstrations, for example in physics 1-4 and engineering 5-6 courses. Demonstrations can range from simple to complex set ups, inexpensive and homemade devices to elaborate, expensive and commercially available units. Children’s toys, novelties, or science-based toys have also been employed as demonstration tools 7-10. Properly selected toys offer at least four advantages: (1) they are relatively inexpensive and readily available for immediate use; (2) there is a good chance that students are familiar with them from their own experiences; (3) they can be used to demonstrate a wide variety of scientific concepts; and (4) they require that students observe a system (the toy) in new or different ways.

With the popularity of YouTube 11-12 and other online video sources 13-14, instructors can easily learn and share ideas on effective use of toys in the classroom. Ludwig Prandtl, a leading force in Fluid Mechanics, was fascinated by toys as observed by Theodore von Karman, one of his most famous students 15. The late Professor Julius Sumner Miller, who hosted many TV shows on physics demonstrations with simple devices and toys in the 1960s and 70s, found toys “enchanting.” Video clips of several of his shows are available on YouTube 11.

Saviz, C., & Shakerin, S. (2010, June), How Does It Work? Using Toys To Inspire Wonder And Develop Critical Thinking Skills In Fluids Mechanics Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15964

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015