Mission Possible (Engineering an Alarm) #4826


Our final project of the year was to design and make a custom game. Throughout the year the students had learned how to use the laser cutter, CNC machine, 3D print and a variety of woodworking tools and skills. One student chose to create a laser game that uses mirrors to direct the beam to a target. We bought some lasers, battery packs, and switches on Amazon to experiment with. When this project appeared we ran through the steps and it was the epitome of “Just in Time” learning. We learned a few things that helped make his game even better.
I think this project could be modified from the way we did it to be more suitable for my 6th grade STEM class. They will have a difficult time with setup but that could be minimized by using cheap laser pointers instead of our DIY setup. Although the DIY setup was great to see how things work.
Some of the best projects we have done in class are collaborative projects between groups of students. I can see this being a collaborative Rube Goldberg type project. Each group is given specific parameters and one group’s project starts the next group’s and so on. Each group setting off alarms or lighting up an LED on a central board.
Definitely a project in the works, good thing there are a few months to think it through and plan for next year.


The best project I have found to introduce electronics has been copper tape cards. It is very easy for the students to understand and they take something home. You only need copper tape, LED’s and batteries. All can be bought for a great price on Amazon. Instructions are all over online.
It is an easy way to visually explain positive and negative and the flow of electricity. When it is treated like an art project and not a science experiment the kids are much more receptive and willing to try things. When I have taught it from a science standpoint they are not creative and do not stray much from what I demonstrated. Very interesting from a teacher’s standpoint.
If anyone wants more details, I am more than happy to offer suggestions for the cards. We have done them for either Christmas or Mother’s Day.


Love this idea! Thank you!


Where does this lesson fit in with your curriculum?
This is pretty advanced for the grades I teach, but I could possibly see doing it with some of my 5th graders as a way to expand on their study of light and energy. I could also tie it into a unit I do on biomimicry where students explore bioluminescence as a means of survival.
One day, I would love to coordinate with our PE teacher and have the students set up a giant laser maze in the gym. I think the kids would love this!

Which part or parts of the lesson would your students need extra support to be successful?
Manipulating the components would certainly pose a challenge for my students, but I’m sure with some practice they’d get the hang of it. I would probably need to spend a good bit of time going over the breadboard and basic circuits before delving into this activity. I like how this activity gives students an opportunity to do some simple debugging but it might be tough for some of them to make the fix.

What does a successful teacher actively do during this lesson?
Model first, then hands off! Let students make the connections and figure out their mistakes. I would do my best to guide them through questioning, suggestions and encouragement. This is a great opportunity to let some of the advanced students engage in some peer support.

What does “student success” look like?
A successful student is a one who has gotten their laser alarms to work without giving up. A really successful student is one who can teach another student the how and why behind it.


I just learned about paper circuits this year. I look forward to being more creative with them next year!


I sincerely wish that I would’ve recorded myself during this task so that my students could have witnessed me during a productive struggle. The webinar was a lifesaver for me! I think I could use this to model the properties of light for my students. I feel like this would have to be an enrichment activity for some of my gifted students. I don’t mean to underestimate my elementary students, but this one would be a bit challenging for them. I would like to have the laser set up and somehow incorporate it into a breakout box or one of our math missions to add a bit of novelty to our lesson. It would also be interesting to see if some of my high students were able to get it for them to incorporate it into a Caine’s Arcade STEM project.


I love the fact that you are willing to share your struggles with your students! Kudos!



It’s a great idea to have the alarm set off as the students walk into the class. It would also be cool to connect a video camera to come on when the laser/photo-cell communication is interrupted…maybe for those who are tardy to class!



Oh my goodness! I want a Star Trek sound motion sensor! I’ll have to find one.


Oh, great idea! We have an issue with one of our halls being particularly crowded. Students could use this alarm as a way to estimate hall traffic and devise a solution to change hall traffic patterns. LOL another one the admin will really like.

This one was so much fun to set up at home, I know the kids will have a blast with it.
I think this lesson will need a little more instruction than some as to how to configure the components…not that it is difficult to do so, but just that I intend to use it as the introduction to the breadboard and circuitry.

We also do a great escape room day at the school. It would be a blast to set up a hall with a bunch of student built laser sensors and have students try to get through the hall without setting off the alarms. If they do set off an alarm, there could be a spy theme related punishment for them that will make it more difficult to escape. Ha ha…there are so many fun possibilities with these experiments.

Oh, and I am definitely getting a laser shark for my room. :smiley:

I think once the students build some samples in the classroom, success will be when they can rebuild more complex designs in the hallways.


I had a student about a year ago who wanted to create the same kind of thing, a Tron style game that used light to control game play - with limited knowledge on the subject, we struggled a lot, and eventually got a working prototype that didn’t look like much, but was a herculean effort! If I thought about incorporating sound, I think it would have made a world of difference!


Where does this lesson fit in with your curriculum (if the lesson is not a fit for the class you teach, how could the lesson be modified so that it is applicable to your curriculum)?

This would be such a great end of the year project for my 8th graders. In previous years we have done IOT projects that included an alarm/traffic monitor that tweeted anytime someone was outside our classroom door outside of classroom hours. It was pretty amusing at first until the twitter account got closed for being “spammy”!
This could incorporate elements of logging the data to a database so we could catch the culprit or track patterns in behavior as well.

Which part or parts of the lesson would your students need extra support in order to be successful?
As many people already posted, if your students don’t know basic electronics or even what a breadboard is, it might be helpful to go over this. I spend a whole unit on electronics in January so students at the end of the year would have a really firm grasp on this content.

If you were to teach this lesson to your class, describe your role during the class. What does a successful teacher actively do during this lesson?
I think all the diagrams and videos and the webinar were incredibly helpful. I actually set up the alarm in my classroom while my students were taking their final exams. When students came up to me to turn their exam in, they crossed the sensor and I got it to play with some success the victory song from final fantasy. I could see a couple of them would have really loved to have done this project this year! I think most of it is just letting the kids work through the kinks and understand the lesson enough to provide support in case of pitfalls.

If you were to teach this lesson to your class, describe your student’s role during the class. What does “student success” look like?
I think that this is one of the projects where the deliverable, a working alarm, will definitely be the biggest indicator of success. I don’t see all of my students wanting to do this project, but the ones who do, will no doubt want to take this home and have it for their room. I think that I could see students creating the prototype with these materials and then creating their own version from other purchased parts.


ThinkGeek.com is my go to place for all things nerdy. The motion sensor is about $20 usually but look for sales. Enjoy!


Here is a recorded webinar where I give a 30min overview and demos from this lesson. This was for the amazing ASE Astrosat cohort! May 23rd 2018. Please let me know if you have any questions.