30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 3 UL XPLORLABS

Day 3: UL Xplorlabs

Today’s feature is not really a tool but rather a set of online learning models centered on safety engineering and problem solving.

Many of us already know UL or Underwriter’s Laboratory as  global leader in safety science. Pick up any electronic device laying around you right now and chances are there is a UL certification mark. What many of you might not know is that UL is now creating free online learning modules around safety science and problem solving through UL Xplorlabs. These multi-media, highly interactive modules are designed to help middle school students understand how engineers use science and inquiry to help make the world a safer place.

I was first introduced to UL Xplorlabs at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio.  You can read about my first reaction to these learning resources in my ISTE 2017 – Recap blog post. At that time they had released their first module on Portable Electric Power. In the last month or so, they have released their second module on Fire Forensics: Claims and Evidence. Both combine videos, simulations, and hands-on activities that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Presentation done!
Me and members of the UL Xplorlabs Team at STEM Summit

Full disclosure before I go any further. Today, I had the pleasure of presenting with three members of the UL Xplorlabs team at a STEM Summit in the Chicago area. We had about 20 teachers in the session to see an overview of these resources. Preparing for the presentation gave me an excellent opportunity to explore the two modules in depth. Needless to say, I’m a fan!

As I mentioned before, both modules include a mix of videos, simulations, and hands-on extensions. Each video features UL scientists/engineers who introduce topics and explain the concepts. This is extremely helpful, especially for those teachers who are hesitant to tackle these topics in their classroom because they are not experts on the content. You don’t have to be. UL has you covered. The short videos are interspersed throughout the module to provide information in a just-in-time fashion. There are also videos that demonstrate some of the more dangerous experiments that you might not (or should not) do at home or in a classroom.

Screen shot of the Xtreme Drop Test Simulation.

In between the videos are interactive animations and simulations. For example, in the Portable Electric Power module, you can use the Drop Zone simulator to see what happen if you drop a hoverboard from up to 11 feet. The simulation lets you control the drop, see the visual effects of the fall and run a speed/distance test to see if there will be any dangerous thermal runaway (= exploded battery). The screen shot to the left shows my failed trail during an Xtreme Drop Test. In short, don’t drop your hoverboard and then try to run it at full speed. Bad things will happen.

In addition to the online videos and simulations, UL Xplorlabs has several experiments for each module that you can do in your classroom as well as collaborative challenges for your students to participate in and share results. There are also lots of videos and additional resources on their Xtensions page. All of the materials in the modules are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards.

Each module is designed to fit a few class periods but can also be extended or condensed as needed. I could also see them being used in a flipped learning environment or for independent study. There are many ways these resources could fit into a middle school classroom.

Did I mention that everything is available on the website for FREE!! Yes. The materials are free.

Bottom line…these are some well done resources that address a side of engineering that we tend to overlook. We focus a lot of our time talking about how engineers build and design things but we don’t spend as much time talking about the important ways engineers keep us safe. I highly recommend checking these resources out, even if you are not a middle school teacher. You might just learning something new.



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