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Designing Safety Helmets - An Engineeering Perspective (Grades 6-12)

Science of the Summer Olympics

This document is a companion piece to video titled Designing Safety Helmets and is intended as a resource for educators.

Background and Planning Information

About the Video

Dr. Nikhil Gupta, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, explains the challenges associated with designing safety helmets used by different types of athletes. In his lab, he and other members of his team use specialized equipment, including cameras and microscopes, to test and analyze how the various materials used in helmets withstand impact.

Dr. Gupta also discusses the importance of the comfort and fit of a helmet, as well as how this critical piece of safety equipment actually holds up under real-world conditions.

0:00 0:12 Series opening
0:13 0:43

Introduction of the importance of safety helmets in sports

0:44 1:14

Nikhil Gupta and the parameters considered in safety helmet design

1:15 1:24

Description of a typical safety helmet

1:25 1:37

Equestrian Beezie Madden and safety needs of her sport

1:38 2:02

Gupta showing an equestrian’s helmet and the purpose of each layer

2:03 2:53

Drop-impact testing and analysis of material used in a helmet’s outer shell

2:54 3:05

Cyclist Sarah Hammer and safety needs of her sport

3:06 3:22

Gupta showing a cyclist’s helmet and the purpose of each layer

3:23 4:09

Compression testing and analysis of material used in a helmet’s middle layer

4:10 4:24

Explanation of how helmets are designed to withstand one or multiple impacts

4:25 4:30

Gupta showing a boxer’s helmet and the purpose of the dense foam layer

4:31 4:49

Boxer Queen Underwood and safety needs of her sport

4:50 5:10

Gupta discussing the importance of field testing of helmets

5:11 5:23

Summary

5:24 5:35

Closing credits

Language Support

To aid those with limited English proficiency or others who need help focusing on the video, make transcript of the video available. Click the Transcript tab on the side of the video window, then copy and paste into a document for student reference.

Connect to Science

Framework for K–12 Science Education

  • PS1.A Structure and Properties of Matter
  • PS2.B: Types of Interactions
  • PS3.C: Relationship Between Energy and Forces
  • LS1.A: Structure and Function

(page 1)


Related Science Concepts

  • Relationship of force and mass
  • Impact forces
  • Physical properties
  • Energy transfer
  • Skeletal system
  • Interaction of body systems

Connect to Engineering

Framework for K–12 Science Education

  • ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
  • ETS2.A: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

Engineering in Action

One goal of engineering is to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints—in this case, the safety of the user without compromising his or her performance. Engineers often describe the factors that impact design using flowchart graphics that resemble a concept map. Some of the factors are related to or dependent on one another (shown with connecting lines), while others might be freestanding, but no less important. Students will likely state that protecting the wearer’s head should be the utmost concern in the design of any type of helmet. Other constraints might include the nature of the sport; the speed of the athlete when involved in the sport; the typical motions and potential dangers of the sport; the surface on which the sport typically takes place; the size and age range of the participants; and accommodations for eyeglasses or other aids, among others. Identifying the range of constraints is part of the engineering knowledge-generating activity design practice.

Take Action with Students

Use the Design Investigations section of the Inquiry Outline as a guide for helping students to explore solutions to a problem related to safety helmet design. As a class, set up constraints within which students will work, such as: the kind of testing material; limiting the thickness of the testing material to no more than 4 cm; developing a way to simulate the force exerted by a blow that might occur during competition; and establishing a way to determine when the tested foam may no longer be effective in protecting its wearer.

Inquiry Outline for Teachers

Encourage inquiry using a strategy modeled on the research-based science writing heuristic. Student work will vary in complexity and depth depending on grade level, prior knowledge, and creativity. Use the prompts liberally to encourage thought and discussion. Student Copy Masters begin on page 7.

Explore Understanding

Ask students to list as many activities or sports as they can think of in which the participants wear a helmet or some sort of protective headgear. Students might even be familiar with motorcycle helmet laws in your state. Then use prompts such as the following to get students to think about the differences among the helmets and headgear.

(page 2)


  • A baseball batter’s helmet is different from a catcher’s helmet in that....
  • A football player’s helmet is different from a wrestler’s headgear because....
  • Not wearing a safety helmet when participating in sports and related activities could result in....
  • A damaged or ill-fitting safety helmet could result in....

Show the video Science of the Summer Olympics (SOTSO): Designing Safety Helmets.

Have students discuss what they saw. Focus the discussion on how helmets are engineered for a specific sport. Then extend student thinking to how all athletes – as well as people who engage in similar activities for fun – can benefit from safety helmets and other products engineered to protect them while they engage in these activities.

  • When I watched the video I thought about....
  • Dr. Gupta, the expert in the video, claimed that _____ because....
  • Most safety helmets have layers because....
  • A boxer’s helmet is different from a cyclist’s helmet in that....
  • A cyclist’s helmet is different from an equestrian’s helmet in that....
  • According to Dr. Gupta, all helmets are designed to....
  • If a helmet is available for a sport, it should be worn because....
  • Other protective equipment for sports include....

Ask Beginning Questions

Stimulate small-group discussion with the prompt: The video makes me think about these questions.... Have small groups discuss why safety helmets vary in their construction and/or materials. On the basis of their discussions, have each group choose one idea and phrase it in such a way as to be researchable and/or testable. Some examples are:

  • What type of material is best suited to protect the wearer against a single impact?
  • What type of material is best suited to protect the wearer against multiple impacts?
  • How can the effectiveness of any safety helmet material be tested?
  • How does the surface on which the sport is played affect the design of the helmet?
  • What “trade-offs” must be considered in the design of a safety helmet?

Design Investigations

Choose one of these two options based on your students’ knowledge, creativity, and ability level.

Open Choice Approach (Copy Master pages 6-7)

Small groups might join together to agree on one question for which they will explore the answer, or each small group might explore something different. Students should brainstorm to come up with a procedure they would carry out to answer their question. Be sure students define the constraints within which they are designing. As they develop their procedures, work with them so that they implement safe procedures that control variables, and use appropriate instruments to make accurate measurements. Encourage students with prompts such as:

  • The variable we will test is....
  • The variables we will control are....
  • The steps we will follow are....

(page 3)


  • To conduct the investigation safely, we will....
  • We will use _____ to make observations/measurements of...

Focused Approach (Copy Master pages 7-9)

The following exemplifies how students might investigate a solution to the problem of when to recommend that a boxer replace existing headgear. Engineers might determine the number of “hits” a boxer’s headgear might withstand before the headgear is no longer effective in protecting its wearer.

  1. Ask students questions such as the following to spark their thinking:
    • What was the boxing helmet in the video like?

    • What is the purpose of such a helmet?

    • What kind of materials might best model the material in an actual boxing helmet?

    • How much foam will be enough to protect the wearer but not compromise performance?

    • How can you simulate the impact between a boxing glove and a boxer’s headgear?

  2. Encourage students to discuss their answers and then brainstorm a list of possible solutions before settling on one they will try. Students might find that after an initial attempt at a solution they might need to start over with another idea; some might try multiple solutions at the same time. Remind them of the constraints, if needed, using prompts such as the following:
    • The maximum thickness of the testing material should be no more than ____ cm because....
    • The force affecting the material will be modeled by....
    • The material will be considered no longer effective when....
  3. Students should determine a way to safely test their material. One way might be to draw a circle in the middle of the material being tested, apply a force to that area with their fists or by stepping on the area with a foot, observe how the material reacts, and continue to apply force until the material is deemed unsafe for wear. Use prompts with students such as the following:
    • We will create the impact force by....
    • We will observe the material after each force is applied and look for....
    • The variables we will control are....
    • To conduct the investigation safely we will....
  4. Students might continue their investigations by focusing on additional constraints, such as choosing an outer covering that will protect the foam from being stained by sweat and blood, and an inner layer that absorbs sweat. Students might also shape and cut the foam to make an actual helmet.

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

As students carry out their investigations, ensure that they record their observations. As needed, suggest ways they might organize their data using tables or drawings of the affected area before and after each force is exerted. Students should analyze their data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence their data shows. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by... we claim... because....

(page 4)


An example claim for the effects of multiple impacts on a boxer’s headgear might be:
As evidenced by its springing back after multiple impacts, we claim that craft or “cheesecake” foam is the best material for a boxer’s helmet because the foam absorbed the forces yet seemed to keep its shape.

Compare Findings

Encourage students to compare their ideas with those of others—such as classmates who investigated the same or similar question, material they found on the Internet, an expert they chose to interview, or their textbooks. Remind students to credit original sources in their comparisons. Elicit comparisons from students with prompts such as the following:

  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in that....
  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that....
  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) those that we found on the Internet in that....

Students might make comparisons like the following:
My ideas and observations are similar to some products we found on the Internet. EverlastTM claims that their boxing helmets absorb the force of a boxer’s punch to protect the wearer and also absorb sweat to keep the helmets smelling fresh.

Reflect on Learning

Students should reflect on their understanding, thinking about how their ideas have changed or what they know now that they didn’t before. Have students respond to one of the prompts in writing and then ask volunteers to share with the class, or have partners exchange responses and ask questions of each other. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

  • My ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of this evidence....
  • My ideas changed in the following ways....
  • As I worked on this project, I wish I had spent more time on....
  • One part of the investigation I am most proud of is....

Inquiry Assessment

See the rubric included in the student Copy Masters on page 10.

Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

Integrate Video in Instruction

Visualize a Concept:

Use the segments of this video that show Queen Underwood talking about her sport, as well as her sparring in the ring, to discuss why her helmet is so different from those of the other two athletes in the video. Use the following prompts to guide the discussion:

  • Why doesn’t Underwood’s helmet have a rigid outer shell?
  • How are the forces from the punches thrown and received by Underwood dampened?
  • Why does Underwood’s helmet cover so much of her head?
  • What other safety equipment does Underwood wear while competing?

(page 5)


Homework:

Use the video as a springboard for students to learn more about head injuries that are sustained as the result of being subjected to multiple impacts. Have them research, for
example, the effects of multiple blows to a boxer’s head, in spite of its being protected by a dense, foam helmet.

Using the 5E Approach?

If you use a 5E approach to lesson plans, consider incorporating video in these E’s:
Explain: Use the video to have students discuss why the initial testing of any safety helmet is done in a laboratory under controlled conditions rather than in the field. Make sure students also consider that laboratory testing doesn’t always mimic real-world situations.
Elaborate: Use the video segments showing the falls and crashes of athletes to stress the importance of using all appropriate types of safety equipment for any given sport or activity. Have students choose four or five sports or activities and list all of the safety equipment that should be used while participating in each.

Connect to ... STEM

Technology

Suggest students research the various types of safety helmets or other safety equipment available to athletes in sports other than those spotlighted in the video, or to people with movement disorders, and small children. Encourage them to find out how the helmets have changed over time, such as those worn during football games since the 1890s. They might create a timeline of events that spurred the development and change in the helmet of their choice.

Use Video in Assessment

Show segments from the video of Sarah, Beezie, and Queen in action with the sound muted. Then give students the following instructions: Choose one of the athletes. Describe how the helmet this athlete wears both provides protection and enhances the athlete’s performance.

COPY MASTER: Open Choice Inquiry Guide for Students

Science of the Summer Olympics: Designing Safety Helmets

Use this guide to investigate a question about the engineering of safety helmets. Write your lab report in your science notebook.

Ask Beginning Questions

The video makes me think about these questions....

Design Investigations

Choose one question. How can you answer it? Brainstorm a list of ideas with your teammates. Write a procedure that controls variables and makes accurate measurements. Add safety precautions as needed.

  • The constraints I will work within are....
  • The variable I will test is....

(page 6)


  • To conduct the investigation safely, I will....

Record Data and Observations

Record your observations. Organize your observations in tables or as detailed, labeled drawings.

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence your data shows. Make sure that the claim goes beyond summarizing the relationship between the variables.

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your results with classmates who investigated the same or a similar question. Or do research on the Internet or talk with an expert. How do your findings compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) the experts in that....
  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) my classmates in that....
  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) what I found on the Internet in that....

Reflect on Learning

Think about what you found out. How does it fit with what you already knew? How does it change what you thought you knew?

  • I claim that my ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of this evidence....
  • My ideas changed in the following ways...
  • As I worked on this project, I wish I had spent more time on....
  • One part of the investigation I am most proud of is....

COPY MASTER: Focused Inquiry Guide for Students

Science of the Summer Olympics: Designing Safety Helmets

Use this guide to investigate a question about how a material withstands multiple impacts. Write your lab report in your science notebook.

Ask Beginning Questions

At what point is a safety material no longer effective after receiving multiple impacts?

(page 7)


Design Investigations

How can you answer your question? Brainstorm a list of ideas with your teammates. Write a procedure that will enable you to meet the constraints. Add safety precautions as needed.
How could you do that?

  • The material I will use is....
  • The thickness of the material will be....
  • I will apply force to the material by....
  • I will determine that the material is no longer effective when it....
  • The variables I will control are....
  • To be safe, I need to....

Record Data and Observations

Organize your observations using tables or drawings of the material throughout the activity. Use the constraints, and any “before and after” readings or documentation you have, as a guide for your displays. The examples below show how measurements taken during an exploration of multiple hits on a test material might be displayed.

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence your data shows.

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

(page 8)


Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your results with classmates who investigated the same or a similar question. Or do research on the Internet or talk with an expert. How do your findings
compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in that....
  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that....
  • My ideas are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that....

Reflect on Learning

Think about what you found out. How does it fit with what you already knew? How does it change what you thought you knew?

  • My ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of this evidence...
  • My ideas changed in the following ways....
  • As I worked on this project, I wish I had spent more time on....
  • One part of the investigation I am most proud of is....

COPY MASTER: Assessment Rubric for Inquiry Investigations

Criteria

1 point

2 points

3 points

Initial question

Question has yes/no answer, is off topic, or otherwise not testable.

Question is testable but too broad or not answerable by the chosen investigation.

Question clearly stated, testable, and shows direct relationship to investigation.

Investigation design

The design of the investigation did not support a response to the initial question.

While the design supported the initial question, the procedure used to collect data (e.g., number of trials, control of variables) was not sufficient.

Clearly identified variables that are controlled as needed with steps and trials that result in data that can be used to answer the question.

Variables

Either the dependent or independent variable was not identified.

While the dependent and independent variables were identified, no controls were present.

Variables identified and controlled in a way that results in data that can be analyzed and compared.

Safety procedures

Basic laboratory safety procedures were followed, but practices specific to the activity were not identified.

Some, but not all, of the safety equipment and safe practices needed for this investigation was followed.

Appropriate safety equipment used and safe practices adhered to.

Observations and Data

Observations are not made or recorded, and data are unreasonable in nature, not recorded, or do not reflect what actually took place during the investigation.

Observations are made, but are not very detailed, or data appear invalid or are not recorded appropriately.

Detailed observations are made and properly recorded and data are plausible and recorded appropriately.

Claim

No claim is made or claim has no relationship to the evidence used to support it.

Claim marginally related to evidence from investigation.

Claim is backed by investigative or research evidence.

Findings comparison

Comparison of findings was limited to a description of the initial question.

Comparison of findings was not supported by the data collected.

Comparison of findings included both methodology and data collected by at least one other entity.

Reflection

Student reflection was limited to a description of the procedure used.

Student reflections were not related to the initial question.

Student reflections described at least one impact on thinking.