Reengineering Your Science Curriculum: Sessions
Exploratorium STEM Conference
Session 1: Three Ways to Light an LED
In this make-and-take workshop, we'll explore three devices that generate enough power to light an LED. You'll construct a five-cent battery that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. We'll look at the world's simplest generator to see how magnetic forces can be used to create electricity. Then you'll build 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. In this session we'll briefly introduce the concept and proceed to two hands-on activities. The first involves 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. You'll measure the electrical input and the mechanical output, and calculate the efficiency. The second activity involves a solar cell in which light input is converted to electrical output and you'll make measurements to determine the energy efficiency. These activities provide outstanding STEM learning experiences.
Session 3: The Bug List—Formalizing the Design Process
The Bug List is a teaching strategy that introduces students to design tools and protocols applicable to any engineering project. 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 you will practice using The Bug List in the context of a gravity-powered car project and a garden design project. Teachers are also encouraged to bring project ideas of their own.
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. You will learn how students can create projects from simple apartments to castles, sports complexes, and aquariums. Come learn how to prepare for and implement this project for your specific classroom. You will receive materials that have been used before and see many examples of projects. You will have time to make your own working model and leave with some holiday lights to continue to experiment with.
Session 5: Engineering the Human Body
Are you looking for ways to build engineering into your life science classes? In this workshop you will learn to incorporate several engineering practices as you design, construct, and evaluate the effectiveness of a working circulatory system. Teachers will leave the workshop with a mechanism for students to release their inner “bioengineers.” Students will use the design process to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the human circulatory system. We will also take 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 you will build a glider by engaging in the process of “making” while delving into NGSS engineering practices. After seeing a basic glider in action, you will identify a problem with the glider and develop and test an improved model. The bulk of the session will be spent exploring the Design-Make cycle. You will learn how to build gliders using inexpensive, easily available materials (cardboard, card stock, balsa wood) and learn how to test it. Finally, you will reflect on the process, construct an explanation for the results, and discuss how to bring this “make” activity to your 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 will systematically experiment with many options. Finally, since optimization is the heart of engineering, you will get requirements for the camera and the “costs” for the different pieces. Your challenge will be 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.