Engineering Brings It All Together!
By Peter A’Hearn
I am really enjoying the creativity that NGSS is awakening in teachers. Those who want to create are taking the standards (and the freedom that comes from the lack of a test) and really exploring what engages their students. I found though, that even when trying our best to match up to the expectations of NGSS, there is a feeling that we missed something. Did we remember the crosscutting concepts? Did the students engage in the practices at the level that NGSS expects? Did we get to the engineering? How about the Nature of Science? Was the content deep enough to really teach the DCI to the point where it could be applied to a new situation? Was it engaging? About a real world phenomenon or problem?
Sometimes when planning for NGSS I feel like a juggler trying to keep too many balls (chainsaws?) is the air at once. But I am increasingly finding that the engineering, rather than feeling like an add-on, can be the piece that helps bring it all together. Here are some examples:
6th grade students try to design a model of Mars habitat that efficiently uses the Sun’s energy to melt ice and keep warm. They are working on understanding heat transfer, the
crosscutting concept of matter and energy, constructing models, analyzing data, and designing solutions. As a class they learn which solutions work best and revise their models based on evidence. This learning can then be extended into the weather and climate unit. (The idea from this project came from the awesome middle school content team at the NGSS Early Implementer Summer Institute).
High school biology students work on designing model membranes for kidney dialysis. This uses the old zip top bag iodine and cornstarch semi-permeable membrane demo, but extends this to allow students to explore materials, concentrations, and structures. They learn that there are common structures of membranes that allow for efficient exchange at all levels of biological organization: thin, high concentration gradient, and high surface area. The students are working on real world phenomena, wrestling to understand the relationship between structure and function and deeply engaged in the practices.
Similarly 8th grade students design hot air balloons to understand how thermal energy affects particle motion and second graders design hand pollinators as they study ecological relationships.
The next time you start to plan an NGSS unit, instead of looking at the engineering as “one more thing to fit in,” ask: “is engineering the thing that can drive this unit?”