In a class using The Concord Consortium’s Engineering Energy Efficiency curriculum, students are measuring the energy efficiency of a heated model house and examining the effect of solar radiation (simulated by a table lamp) using sensors. (Laurie Swope)
With science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) currently in the education spotlight, teachers are seeking ways to integrate STEM in their curricula. Programs like Project Lead the Way (PLTW) can help teachers integrate science and engineering while receiving abundant support.
In 1997, PLTW launched its Pathway To Engineering (PTE) program for high school students. PTE students take foundation courses like Introduction to Engineering Design, which features hands-on projects involving industry-standard 3D modeling software that students use to design solutions to proposed problems. They then document their work using an engineer’s notebook and communicate solutions to peers and members of the professional community.
A second foundation course, Principles of Engineering, exposes students to major concepts they’ll encounter in a college engineering course. Topics include mechanisms, energy, statics, materials, and kinematics. In addition, specialization courses cover subjects like aerospace engineering, biotechnical engineering, civil engineering and architecture, computer-integrated manufacturing, and digital electronics.
“Like adults trying to solve a problem, students in [PLTW] curricula are not restricted to one discipline, but rather delve into mathematics, science, technology, and English Language Arts. In the process, they are learning to apply knowledge that they will retain beyond the test and integrating school learning and real life,” says Anne Jones, PLTW’s chief program officer. The program’s “network of K–12 stakeholders, post-secondary partners, and corporate and industry leaders” give students “real-world experiences, mentorship and internship opportunities, post-secondary and career opportunities. It is through this network that PLTW has both the breadth and depth of content and experiences,” she contends.
What makes PLTW unique “is its focus on not just world-class curriculum, but also [on] high-quality professional development (PD) and an engaged network,” asserts Jones. “PLTW writes the curriculum, provides training to teachers, and has a well-connected network of educators, students, parents, universities, and corporate and industry leaders.”
The program’s PD model centers around a two-week, in-depth training program held at 51 university affiliate campuses. The model includes Readiness Training, to ensure “teachers are prepared for the two-week training program;” Core Training (the two-week program); and Ongoing Training, “which encompasses the continuing education and classroom support PLTW provides its teachers,” Jones explains. PLTW provides teachers with scaffolded learning experiences through this model, which focuses “on the application of STEM principles through engineering,” she notes.
Jones adds that PLTW is “leveraging technology to connect our teaching professionals not just during Core Training, but also throughout the year. We are also developing PD maps of what teachers need to know and be able to do for all PLTW courses. This will ensure that our PD resources and professional learning experiences build the necessary knowledge, skills, and habits of mind for world-class teaching and learning.”
Scientific Inquiry Meets Engineering Design
“Engineering is about making things based on scientific principles. The Engineering Energy Efficiency (EEE) curriculum strives to build intimate links between science concepts and engineering designs,” says Charles Xie, EEE’s principal investigator and senior scientist at The Concord Consortium , a nonprofit educational research and development organization in Concord, Massachusetts.
As part of the EEE project, high school students design and build an energy efficient scale-model house with the aid of simulations and probeware. “Inquiry and design are at the hearts of science and engineering practices,” says Xie. “The EEE curriculum bridges science and engineering by combining scientific inquiry and engineering design in a hands-on, project-based, and technology-enhanced learning process with the concept of energy in the central place for [about] 8–16 class periods,” he explains. “Through a set of laboratory experiments and computer simulations, students will be guided to learn the science behind energy flow and usage in houses. Prepared with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to undertake more sophisticated tasks, they then team up to design, construct, test, and improve a model house step by step, with the goal to maximize its energy efficiency at each step,” he says.
Xie notes that EEE’s design, construction, and testing kits employ free or inexpensive materials and tools, making the curriculum easy to implement. The project also extensively incorporates cutting-edge technologies: EEE “has developed two powerful free engineering software tools, Energy2D and Energy3D,” that can be “used independently of the EEE curriculum and applied to a much broader engineering context,” he maintains.
“Based on computational physics research, Energy2D is an interactive, visual simulation program that models all three mechanisms of heat transfer—conduction, convection, and radiation,” and can serve as an inquiry tool students can use “to explore heat and mass flows in two-dimensional structures under different environmental conditions, such as sunlight and wind,” Xie explains. And Energy2D can help middle to college level engineering educators teach “complicated science and engineering concepts without resorting to complex mathematics,” he points out.
Energy3D’s 3D user interface can be used to design and make model buildings. “Students can quickly sketch up a house, a building, or even a village,” and Energy3D allows them to “‘print out’ a design, cut out the pieces, and use them to assemble a physical model,” enabling students “to start a design on the computer and end with a real product in hand,” says Xie.
The Infrared (IR) YouTube website also is integral to EEE. “We are developing a unique approach that uses affordable ($500–$1,000) handheld IR cameras to visualize invisible energy flows and transformations in easy-to-do science experiments,” he explains. “Using this ‘desktop remote sensing’ approach, thermal energy can be readily ‘seen.’ Other types of energy that convert into thermal energy can be inferred from thermal signals,” so teachers and students can visualize, discover, and investigate various “invisible physical, chemical, and biological processes that absorb or release heat,” he relates.
The EEE curriculum aids teachers in integrating science and engineering because it shows “how the coupling of inquiry and design can be an effective strategy for guiding students to apply science to engineering,” says Xie. “Using a temperature sensor as a data logger, we have developed a test for estimating the energy consumption needed to maintain the temperature in a model house. During the process of house improvement, students run this test repeatedly to evaluate the effects of their modifications. Any claim of energy saving must be backed by test data. The result of each inquiry may affect students’ next design choice.”
For instance, he continues, “a design challenge of adding a passive solar collector to a model house” involves several steps. “In an ideal learning situation, students would be asked to investigate why or why not a new feature results in an energy gain. It is through these inquiry tasks that the engineering designs are connected to science concepts such as natural convection and solar radiation. Skipping the inquiry part for the ‘why’ questions, the design challenge would be downgraded to an operation following a ‘cookbook’ made up by a set of the ‘how’ questions,” he contends. Students would “lose the opportunity to learn about the quantitative nature of engineering design—that a design decision is always made by calculating the tradeoff among options and constraints based on scientific data derived from test results.”
For teachers, implementing EEE poses no significant difficulties, according to Xie. “Watching an online video should immediately teach [educators] how to use [a sensor in their classroom]…All the software products just run online, and learning how to use them should be [easy]. The hands-on experiment may require a bit more time to set up, but we provide [information on] where to get the supplies and how to set them up.”
Preparing Students for the Workforce
In Mobile, Alabama, Engaging Youth through Engineering (EYE) “was developed in response to our business community’s call for a different type of high school graduate, one with the STEM skills and thinking needed to meet our area’s changing workforce needs,” observes EYE Director Susan Pruet. “So EYE is first and foremost a K–12 workforce and economic development strategy for our community. It is spearheaded by a community organization, the Mobile Area Education Foundation, in collaboration with the Mobile County Public School System, the University of South Alabama, and area business and industry.”
EYE’s series of modules “use engineering design challenges (and getting students to think like engineers) in support of learning important math and science,” Pruet explains. “The modules bring relevance to the required science and math content and show the students that it is through the integration of STEM, coupled with a good process to find solutions, that solutions are found to meet the needs of people and industry today.”
The modules typically contain six to eight lessons “with two to three occurring in math class and three to five happening in science. Teachers tell us that being able to work with the other teachers, both within their subject area and across the two disciplines, is one of the best parts of the modules,” she notes.
“What we are hearing is that the inclusion of substantial math in our challenges is unique,” she reports. Sometimes in other design challenges, the math is “fairly surface-level—figuring costs, or at most, gathering and displaying data,” she contends, while the EYE modules “go much further: For example, we do a lot with data, but more with the analyses of that data, using statistical methods. In one module, instead of just saying the average output is [one amount] and using that average to compare performances related to different designs, we also will have students look at the variation and spread—how close a set of data is clustered around the mean. How likely would you get a design to replicate those results next time?”
PD for using EYE in the classroom is key, Pruet stresses, because teachers “need to understand the engineering problem, and how it relates to problems today in business, industry, and society, and how math and science are used in solving the problem—which usually involves designing a technology…[We also] provide an EYE Coach to assist with getting materials ready, setting labs up, securing volunteers as needed, [and so on].”