A Scientifically Literate Public
The ability to think critically and problem solve are key contributing factors to the development of peoples’ propensity to deal effectively with challenges faced in life. Education, in our public schools, has no higher ideal than to prepare students to lead personally fulfilling and responsible lives. Scientific habits of the mind, as a performance-based standard for learning, leads to individuals having the ability to solve problems that involve evidence-based decision making, quantitative considerations, logical thinking and development of an aptitude for sound judgment.
Astronaut and former middle school teacher Ricky Arnold stated the following in the current issue of NSTA Report Publication, “The only way we are going to address the very real issues that this planet is collectively facing is with a scientifically literate public. Sadly, this is a very real problem in the country that landed the first humans on the Moon. The only way to address it is through education…as teachers we have the very unique privilege to share with our students our passion for STEM fields.”
Science literacy, as a model for learning, strives for quality of understanding over quantity of coverage and helps to develop an appreciation for the interconnectedness of the natural world to all living things. Scientifically literate students embrace the complexities of life with a real sense of understanding. The Framework to Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 Science Education help deliver understanding of these complexities through curriculum based upon, practice, crosscutting concepts and core ideas. This sets the stage for an emphasis on preparing our children for a demanding and dynamic future filled with countless opportunities and immeasurable challenges.
Engineering challenges provide a learning experience and opportunity to fully engage in and deliver a performance that is closely linked to knowledge-base and understanding of science. These challenges, embedded within a project-based model for learning science, delivers an excellent learning opportunity for students in the classroom, thereby capitalizing upon their intrinsic motivation and intense focus to solve real-world problems.
The Electric Car Project, in the physics classroom, is a hands-on and project-based model for learning allowing students to employ core concepts in science and in scientific reasoning. This project creates for students a framework through which they can collaboratively engage in solving problems and where solutions are based on sound judgement with logical and critical thinking.
The Electric Car Project is an engineering challenge providing the opportunity for students to solve problems through redesigning of standard prototype models. The goal of the project is for students to develop an innovative approach to solving problems, while at the same time working to produce new designs that increase the level of the car’s performance.
An electric car prototype model is tested to determine its initial performance, then redesigned in a manner to increase this level of performance. The electric car has an energy source that originates in the chemistry of a battery, then is transferred into electrical energy and finally is delivered as mechanical energy to the body of the car. The constant force generated by the spinning propeller is a direct consequence of the delivery of this final mechanical energy. The force that is generated drives the car down a horizontal track with acceleration.
The constant force produced by a propeller creates constant acceleration motion. The electric car moves with increasing velocity and experiences exponential changes in displacement. The physics of motion defines the performance of the vehicle. The performance of the electric car determines the success of the engineering design challenge.
Students develop a method of organizing data, they define a hypothesis, they test variables and produce evidence-based solutions. This process of scientific investigation leads to increased performance of the electric vehicles. Through investigation, students document key factors like force, acceleration, velocity and displacement, which providing evidence for their decision-making and understanding.
Participation in these learning environments require students to strive to fulfill project goals while solving problems. This process requires autonomy in thinking, reliance upon cooperative and collaborative learning to take place in the classroom and it also demands a good dose of personal intrinsic motion. Each additional successful implementation of engineering challenges in the science curriculum helps provide a catalyst for the revolution of science education in our schools, with a renewed commitment to fully prepare our children for a robust and challenging world that they will inherit in this new century.
The engineering project begins with students constructing the original prototype model
Testing the prototype model develops a base of knowledge about the performance of the electric vehicle.
Sophisticated analysis of the motion of the vehicle and the net forces applied by the propeller is supported by using motion sensors and force probes.
Testing and analysis of vehicles sets the stage for advanced redesign of the car to significantly increase performance outcomes.