Sunday, January 24, 2016

Optimal Experience

It is by no small measure to say that the most important aspect of teaching is to create a learning environment that is most conducive to students’ interests and abilities.  The goal in education is to create an optimal experience for students in the classroom that includes a sense of autonomy, exhilaration and enjoyment. 

A measure of the competency of a teacher’s pedagogy is evident by the ability to create an engaging and enjoyable balance between boredom on one hand and anxiety on the other. Performance-based engineering challenges help develop innovative learning experiences that stretch the minds of students instilling a sense of mastery, happiness and satisfaction, while delivering goal-oriented problems to solve. The challenge for teachers is to utilize their own personal talents along with classroom resources and go forth and capitalize upon the conviction that engaged students are learned students!

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “We are always getting to live, but never living.”   Education without the possibility to use what we know to solve problems and help people becomes an unfulfilled gesture. In a coordinated and systematic manner students, engaged in engineering-based projects, can unleash their skills and abilities using their knowledge and understanding to achieve performance-based results. This experience helps define a person’s character, ambition, and capability.

Engineering prototypes like a Hovercrafts, Elastic Energy Prop Racers or Catapults among a list of many similar designs, will open the doors of innovation and creativity for students.  Students develop a more personal and deeper sense of control over the outcome of their involvement in science.  Working on these prototype designs require a high level of task orientation and concentration.  The significant investment in classroom time for these projects and the benefits, realized through increased student commitment, greater sense of self-efficacy and increased academic performance, all contribute to huge dividends in learning.

Investigations into the concepts of speed, acceleration, force and energy of Hovercrafts in motion can lead to significant comprehension of scientific principles and applications into the dynamics of motion.  These scientific inquiries are the fodder for further questions and experimentation.  To apply concepts in science to real-world experience is to truly exhibit learning.  To be successful in school it is important that students have access to these types of exciting challenges and experiences.  The feedback between peers and between the teacher and students is immediate as these projects support deep personal involvement fueled by a sense of achievement of clearly stated goals and expectations.

Students made comments on their efforts to complete the project. Jessica says, “The best part was when the hovercraft actually moved!”  She also said, “Communications was built when we had to figure out how to hold everything while the glue dried and also when we figured out how to make the propeller spin.” Jordan commented on his involvement on the prototype design.  He said, “The most rewarding aspect is the improvement of force on the model.” In both cases these students reflect upon some of the challenging aspects of the project and the need to solve problems and work on solutions.  Overcomes her frustrations Bella says, “Assembling the Hovercraft was pretty interesting, though it was aggravating.”

An optimal experience in science education always provide a challenging situation for students to surmount, but at the same time it dictates the course of events. Students utilize resources and knowledge in a focused effort to solve a problem.  This is the essence of learning in the 21st century science classroom.

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