STEM Day 2020: Helping the Next Generation Figure it Out

By Sam Skinner on

On my first day as an engineering student at Auburn University, I went to the engineering department head to ask a question about my schedule. Dr. B handed me a piece of paper, looked me in the eye and said, “Here is a list of every class you need to graduate. You’re an engineer, figure it out and don’t ever come to ask me about your schedule again.” Sounds harsh right? It was some of the best advice I ever received. It reminded me that there are no shortcuts and that all learning and achievement in life requires a bit of struggle. That advice has served me well throughout my life and career. When you run into a challenge, you have to think, get creative and “Figure it Out,” as Dr. B said.

STEM On November 8th, we celebrate National STEM Day. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM is a nationwide initiative to get young people excited about these fields, think more creatively and develop into the innovators and problem-solvers our world needs for the future.

Here are a few ways we can help the next generation of those who are going to “Figure It Out” celebrate National STEM Day.

SCIENCE: Become a Time Traveler

It’s easier than you think. All you need to do is get moving. That’s right; the faster your run, drive or fly, the farther into the future you travel! Stated another way, the faster you travel, the slower time runs for you relative to someone not moving. We know this thanks to Albert Einstein who, not only proved that time travel is possible, but gave us the tools to determine how far into the future we can travel. Einstein’s special theory of relativity tells us how much slower time passes for a moving body relative to a stationary body, i.e., an observer.

Einstein’s equation tells us that the time experienced by a stationary observer, T’ is equal to the time measured by a moving body divided by the square-root of one minus the velocity V squared of the moving object divided by c, the speed of light 299,792,458 m/s squared. If you take the difference between T’ and T, you get how far into the future you’ve traveled! The effect is minimal but becomes significant as you approach the speed of light.

Equation for Time Dilation

For example, if you were to hop in a plane and fly around the world at 99.99% of the speed of light (that’s fast) for one hour, you would only experience 1 hour of time passing. However, to a stationary observer watching you fly by from the ground, 2.9 days would pass. When you land, you would have traveled into the future almost three days! Consider a flight from New York City to Los Angeles, traveling at 560 mph. The clocks for passengers slow down by 5.48 nanoseconds – meaning that when they land, passengers have traveled 5.48 nanoseconds into the future. I bet you’ll never think about flying the same way again.

This isn’t just some abstract effect that that has no practical implications. Most GPS satellites speed around the globe at 8700 mph, meaning the clocks on the satellites run 7.2 microseconds slower per day than clocks on the ground – ignoring the effects of General Relativity. If we don’t adjust the clocks to account for this discrepancy, the error will accumulate, rendering GPS positioning inaccurate. Thankfully for everyone using Google Maps, engineers have built in the necessary adjustments.

TRY IT AT HOME! Go to your nearest track and time yourself sprinting 100 meters as fast as you can. Take your time (your “T” in Einstein’s time dilation equation) and divide it by 100 meters to obtain your velocity (that’s your “v” in Einstein’s equation). After some long division to get your T’, then subtract T (your time) to determine how far you traveled into the future. When I was at my fastest, I could run 100m in 11.05 seconds, which means I traveled 5.03*10-15 seconds into the future relative to someone standing still!

To save you doing the math, click this link to an online calculator.

TECHNOLOGY: Write Your First Computer Program

“Hello, World” is the world’s most famous computer program and usually the first lines of code written by any programmer. Brian Kernighan first referenced this simple program in his 1973 book, “A Tutorial Introduction to the Programming Language B.” You can write the world’s most famous program in any programming language, but I’m going to teach you how to do it in my favorite, Python!

If you are running a Mac, OS X already has Python installed. If you’re a Windows user, you will need to download and install Python.

Once you’ve installed Python, open a command prompt by typing “CMD” in the Windows search bar.

First, type python into the command prompt to start the interpreter and press Enter.

Command Prompt

Then type print(“Hello World”) as seen in the example below. Press Enter again, and your output will be Hello World. Congratulations, you’ve executed your first line of code!


>>> print(“Hello World”)

Hello World

To take it a step further, let’s write and run your first computer program.

Type quit() to exit Python in the CMD prompt. You will need to make a new file folder location to store your program – let’s call it Python_Examples. I recommend storing it in the directory that your command prompt is pointing to. For example, mine is already pointing to the C-Drive – Users – Sam.Skinner (c:UsersSam.Skinner).

Notepad Example

Now we will write your program in a simple text editor such as Notepad. Open Notepad and type in print(“Hello World”) and save this file as

Now to execute your program, follow these few simple lines of code in the command prompt.

C:UsersSam.Skinner>cd Python_Examples

(This makes your new folder “Python_Examples” the current directory)


(this starts Python again, and then you simply type in the file name of your hello world program and press enter to run the program)

Hello World

(this is your output after running the program)

Here is the full example in the Command Prompt for reference.

Full Command Prompt Example

ENGINEERING: Design Your First Product

Traditional Engineering WorkflowIf you’re a teacher or a parent who has taken on the role of teacher due to Covid-19, you can get your kids excited about engineering with SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids. SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids is simple, easy to use and requires no prior technical knowledge. Kids follow the traditional engineering workflow: Ideate, Create, Enhance and Produce. They will learn how to design, create 3D models and even simple mechanical designs!

SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

>> Check out this great tutorial from Michael Steeves at Dassault Systems.

Schools and teachers can also bring the full power of SOLIDWORKS 3D design into the classroom with the SOLIDWORKS Education Edition. SOLIDWORKS is not only used in over 80% of the world’s top engineering schools, but it is also widely used in middle and high school classrooms to teach basic engineering principles and design. SOLIDWORKS is so easy to use, many young students can pick it up without any formal training. They can almost immediately begin designing and letting their creativity flow.

MATH: Wow Your Friends With Your Math Skills

  • Multiply any two-digit number quickly by 11.
    Take 25×11, for example. Take the two-digit number 25, put a space in between 2__5, and then fill in the space with the sum of the two digits 2 (2+5) 5 = 275. That’s it!
  • Square a Two-Digit Number Ending in 5.
    To square any two-digit number ending in 5, take the first digit and add 1 to it. Next, take that sum and multiply by the original first digit. Lastly, take that product and put 25 at the end of it.
    For example, let’s square the number 25. Take the first digit of the number (2) and add 1, which equals 3. Next, multiply that sum by the first digit of the original number (2 x 3). This gives us 6. Lastly, put 25 at the end of the 6 to get the final answer: 625.
  • Learn the quadratic equation song.
    I warn you it’s catchy and you will never forget it!

BONUS: Other Ways to Celebrate

  • Challenge your friends to a creativity contest

Paperclip ChallengeHow many different uses can you come up with for an ordinary paperclip in 5 minutes?

Take out a pen and a piece of paper. Set a timer and write down as many uses as you can think of. Most people can only come up with 10-20 uses. Very creative thinkers can come up with over 100! You can do this by yourself, but I recommend finding someone you can challenge to a contest to see who can come up with the most.

With the holidays just around the corner, what better way to introduce STEM than through a fun and unique gift? Check out these holiday tips our Application Engineers put together for selecting STEM toys to gift your little ones!