Scientific and engineering practices

If you’re concerned or apprehensive about the NGSS, this month’s Commentary Preparing for the New Standards should be on your to-read list. The author, a high school physics teacher, describes his experiences in including engineering in his classes and basing student learning on the practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas as described in the Framework for K-12 Science Education, on which the standards are based. His advice: read the Framework, start small, and participate in conversations (and NSTA has many ways to participate, including webinars and tweet chats #ngsschat). The featured articles this month focus on scientific and engineering practices.

Learning to drive is a rite of passage for many teenagers, who are most at-risk for traffic fatalities. A Science That Saves Lives* describes a project in “crash science” – investigating car crashes through hands-on designs and simulations. The authors embed an egg-carrying paper car design activity within an investigation of car crashes. Perhaps this could complement the driver safety course? On a similar topic, your students could also look at Curbing Texting While Driving*, a simulation of how distractions can have an impact on awareness. [SciLinks: Momentum, Forces and Motion, Potential and Kinetic Energy]

When can a cell phone camera become a science tool for measurement and documentation? Keeping a (Digital) Eye on Nature’s Clock shows how photography can be incorporated into a longitudinal study in phenology. The authors include a 5e lesson and a link to software for analyzing photographic data of changes in plants over time. The software is Image J, which is an easy—and free—download. I’m sure students would be able to figure it out!). The article also includes samples of real data, suggestions for camera calibrations, and links to citizen-science networks.  [SciLinks: Plant Growth, Plant Photosynthetic Pigments]

Many science investigations are constrained by the 45- or 90-minute time period. As the authors of The Hydraulic Jump note, however, science research is more complex and time-consuming and describe their experiences in helping students conduct independent research. I must admit I was unfamiliar with the term in the title as related to turbulent water (the authors provide a definition/description of the phenomenon), but by the end of the article, it’s clear how this seemingly simple event relates to a host of variables (and a list is provided) and lends itself to investigations. If your students are going to be involved in a research project, The Devil’s in the Deadlines has suggestions for planning and documenting a long-term project, including a sample deadline checklist.

What are the similarities and differences between science inquiry and engineering design? The author of Design Practices and Misconceptions* takes the eight practices and compares them in terms of science and engineering. He also addresses each with suggestions for those who are not as familiar with engineering design.

*Don’t forget to look at the Connections for this issue (January 2013), which includes links to the resources mentioned in the articles. These Connections also have ideas you could adapt for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

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  1. Barbara Regan
    Posted December 15, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    We are at the end of our Chemical Reactions Unit and ready to dive into the last standard when we get back from winter break. I was hoping to get some ideas on how to structure the lessons to teach this standard. Has anyone taught this yet? If so, do you have any advice?

    MS-PS1-6. Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes.

    Many Thanks.

    • Mary Bigelow
      Posted December 26, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      To get lots of ideas, I would post your request in the NSTA Chemistry forum or NSTA’s Chemistry list serve. I hope you can find what you need from our helpful colleagues there.

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