STEM Club: Reverse Engineering - Eva Varga

February 5, 20142

Engineering is the science of designing and creating. Reverse engineering is the science of taking things apart to see how they work. Have you ever wondered what makes devices work or what is inside them? Then grab your toolbox – all you really need is a couple of screwdrivers (Philips and flathead) and a pair of wire-cutters – and an old appliance.  You’re underway!

reverse engineering

I first learned of the term Reverse Engineering from my fellow homeschool science blogger, Marci, when she shared a great printable she created for her kids, Reverse Engineering Printable Worksheets.  I knew immediately that this would be an activity my kids would love.

I wanted to provide my STEM Club kids with this same opportunity so I thereby inquired with the manager of a local Salvation Army store if he would be willing to donate to us a few electronics or appliances that didn’t work and thereby not marketable.  He was more than willing and we walked out with a box full of stuff to tear apart. girl engineers

I was quite surprised, actually, with how much the kids loved this activity.  They were engrossed in the task for 90 minutes in class and I know many of them continued to tinker when they got home.  They were encouraged to makes sketches in their notebooks and to label as many of the components as possible, but only a few followed through with the more menial task.

With the components they salvaged, I challenged them to create something … anything.  I shared a photo of a few robot-like sculptures others had created and suggested using hot glue or wire to adhere the parts together.  If they were able to mechanize their robots .. even better!

robot armySeveral students took me up on the challenge. One student, shown above, created a little robot army!  Another used an old coffee pot (sans the carafe) to create what looked like a robot head – its eyes even lit up and flashed in a menacing way.  I was so impressed with their creativity!

We discovered that the devices that were the most enjoyable to take apart were those with small motherboards within – an old cell phone, a VCR, or a fax machine.  Logically, the larger or more complex the device, the longer it took to take apart.

Reflecting upon this activity, I wish I had first walked the class through the disassembly of a single device – a flashlight, for example.  Flashlights are not only products that visually demonstrate fundamental concepts around simple circuitry, they can also be purchased cheaply en masse.  In fact, I may do so yet …

[ Admin Note:  Be cautious when taking apart televisions and monitors – they contain parts that can be dangerous.  Check out this tutorial for more information, How to Take Apart TV. ]


  • Marci Goodwin

    February 6, 2014 at 7:02 am

    That looks like so much fun! We love our reverse engineering days. I think next time I will let the kids create something from the parts. We have always took things apart and then tried to figure out what the various parts do. Creating something new would let my kids use their creative side!

    • Eva Varga

      February 6, 2014 at 7:24 am

      It was certainly a highlight of the week … thank you so much for inspiring us!! 🙂

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