Reengineering Your Science Curriculum: Session Descriptions
Session 1: Three Ways to Light an LED
In this session, teachers explored three devices that generate enough power to light an LED, and constructed a five-cent battery that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. We looked at the world's simplest generator to see how magnetic forces can be used to create electricity, then built a wind generator to model the use of wind power as an energy source. By applying fundamental engineering practices and principles, these simple designs can all be improved to illuminate multiple colors of LEDs with a spectrum of power demands.
Session 2: Energy Efficiency of a Toy and a Solar Cell
Energy efficiency is a highly relevant topic in today's world and critical in successful engineering design. The energy efficiency of a device is obtained by comparing energy output to input. Here, we outlined this topic and introduced two hands-on activities. The first involved a battery-powered toy in which objects (small plastic penguins, dolphins, dogs, pirates, and so on) are lifted to the top of a toy rollercoaster, roll down the track, and then repeat the journey. Teachers measured the electrical input and the mechanical output, and calculated the efficiency. The second activity involved a solar cell in which light input is converted to electrical output, and making measurements to determine the energy efficiency. These activities provide outstanding STEM learning experiences.
Session 3: The Bug List, or Formalizing the Design Process
The Bug List is a teaching strategy that introduces students to design tools and protocols applicable to any engineering project. In this activity, students are asked to generate a list of pet peeves (i.e., things that “bug” them) and identify problems to solve using engineering design. The Bug List project is independent of science content, focusing students on learning the design process itself. In this session participating teachers practiced using the Bug List in the context of a gravity-powered car project and a garden design project.
Session 4: Wire It Up! The Electric Building Project
Using a shoebox, discarded holiday lights, and some simple tools, students can create and wire a model building complete with switches. Students follow a design process that mirrors real-life engineering and construction as they test and revise their circuits until specific requirements for house circuitry are met. This session offers guidance on how students can create projects from simple apartments to castles, sports complexes, and aquariums, and how you can prepare for and implement this project for your specific classroom.
Session 5: Engineering the Human Body
Are you looking for ways to build engineering into your life science classes, and to release your students' inner "bioengineers"? In this session, teachers learned to incorporate several engineering practices as they designed, constructed, and evaluated the effectiveness of a working circulatory system. As a result, students will use the design process to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the human circulatory system. This session also offered a brief look at other ways to integrate engineering into life science, including other system-level design challenges and biomedical engineering projects.
Session 6: Making Gliders
Want to bring the “maker movement” to your classroom? In this session, teacher built a glider by engaging in the process of making while delving into NGSS engineering practices. After seeing a basic glider in action, they identified a problem with the glider and developed and tested an improved model while exploring the Design-Make cycle. The session outlined how to build gliders using inexpensive, easily available materials (cardboard, card stock, balsa wood) and how to test them. Finally, teachers were asked to reflect on the process, construct an explanation for their results, and discussed how to bring this "maker" activity to their students.
Session 7: Engineering a Camera Obscura
The design of this simple camera involves many decisions. How long should it be? Should it be adjustable? What kind of lens should you use? Will a pinhole work? What kind of screen? How much will it cost? Making design choices is essential to engineering, but students are often stymied by the number of choices and are rarely systematic in their exploration. Using easy to find, inexpensive materials such as PVC pipes, PVC connectors, dollar-store magnifying glasses, and so on, you can systematically experiment with many options. Since optimization is the heart of engineering, this session explains the requirements for the camera and the “costs” for the different pieces—your challenge is to create the lowest-cost design that that meets the job’s needs.
Session 8: Designing a “Planter with a View”
Plants require three things to grow: light, carbon dioxide, and water—yet many students believe that plants require soil and some kind of “food” to grow. This lesson targets these commonly held misconceptions as students engage in NGSS engineering practices. Instead of the teacher delivering information and facts to the students, the students develop a more accurate understanding of plant growth by engineering their own “planters with a view”—one using soil and one using water. A basic design for the planter is presented to the students and then they are given supplies to engineer a new and improved design.