Science by Design: Construct a Boat, Catapult, Glove, and Greenhouse

Science by Design

When I came across this NSTA Press® title, I was reminded of comedian Stephen Wright’s one liner: “A lot of people ask me, if I were shipwrecked, and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say ‘How to Build a Boat.’” In which case, he might find Science by Design: Construct a Boat, Catapult, Glove, and Greenhouse particularly useful.

The individual units in this book are designed to engage students in inquiry and design as iterative, multidisciplinary processes through which they will develop abilities in designing and constructing investigations, recognize and apply models, construct explanations, make predictions, create solutions, decision making, building, testing, and evaluating.

NSTA Press has taken all of these units, which used to be published separately, into one volume that allows high-school students hands-on experience while investigating engineering concepts. In the units’ introductions, the developers include information on integrating science and technology, schedules, costs, key ideas, standards and benchmark connections, SciLinks®, and course outlines. Following the introduction, each unit has five activities: design brief, quick-build, research, development, and communication. The appendices also provide some suggestions for sidetrips as you and your students travel this road together

Construct a Boat

From the biblical story of Noah building an ark to the popular TV show NCIS, where the main character, Jethro Gibbs, spends his off-duty time building a boat in his basement, people have struggled to construct this fundamental craft for traveling on water. The invention of boats allowed people to explore beyond their own shores, protect their coasts, and discover new lands. In this unit, students develop conceptual understanding of electromechanical energy transfer, friction, and mathematical modeling to build a scale model of a boat.

Construct a Catapult

I remember judging a science fair several years ago. By far and away, the project that garnered the most attention was the working catapult. Not only were students fascinated by how it worked (and that it actually worked), but also by how ancient the technology actually was.

“Throughout history, humans have applied innovative ideas and designs to devices for throwing weapons….Early catapults were modeled after the bow and arrow, but they quickly evolved into strong, single-armed machines constructed of composite layers of wood, sinew, and horn. The word catapult is derived from the Greek prefix kata, denoting downward motion, and from pelte, a light shield carried by Greek troops. A katapelte could smash a projectile downward completely through a shield.”

Physical science concepts are covered in this unit, such as inquiry and design, dynamics, kinematics, and energy transfer, during the construct of a catapult.

Construct a Glove

I generally think of gloves when I need to keep my hands warm, but after exploring this unit, I realized that the number of special-purpose gloves people use in everyday life, work, sports, and hobbies is pretty extensive: food handling, dishwashing, gardening, firefighting, driving, fashion, cattle roping, baseball, boxing, golfing, skiing, mountain climbing, and the list goes on! A discussion about special-purpose gloves can help students better relate form to function.

In this unit, students develop conceptual understanding of heat energy transfer, cell metabolism, and thermal regulation through this challenge to construct a glove. Students conduct “hands-in” research to determine combinations of glove materials that balance thermal effectiveness with dexterity for a specific function.

Construct a Greenhouse

Mastering the ability to construct a structure that would allow people to grow plants, vegetables, and flowers in an environmentally controlled environment goes back to Roman times. The emperor Tiberius ate a cucumber-like vegetable every day for his health. He grew them in an early version of a greenhouse so he could have them year round. Greenhouses became and remain very popular in areas, such as Scandinavia, where the climate is not conducive to growing produce year round.

Through a variety of hands-on design activities, students develop a conceptual understanding of heat energy transfer, photosynthesis, plant metabolism, thermal regulation, and feedback control.

Whether you use Science by Design to explore concepts such as buoyancy and friction (through boats); torsion and elasticity (through catapults); heat transfer and insulation (through gloves), or plant biology, thermodynamics, and energy transfer (through greenhouses), this book is designed to inspire students’ interest in learning as they design and construct themselves.

Additional NSTA Press® resources to consider in conjunction with this book are:

Integrating Engineering and Science in Your Classroom

Everyday Engineering 

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