Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Motor Mania: Revving Up for Technological Design: Motor Mania Is a Topic That Lets Students Experience Firsthand the Relationship between Science and an Everyday Technological Application Such as Getting a Car to Function Well

Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Motor Mania: Revving Up for Technological Design: Motor Mania Is a Topic That Lets Students Experience Firsthand the Relationship between Science and an Everyday Technological Application Such as Getting a Car to Function Well

Article excerpt

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Students get very excited when confronted with problems that they find meaningful. For ten years, our science enrichment program has taught middle school students complex science concepts via real problem-based learning experiences. Problem-based learning lets students solve problems using the strategies and tools that scientists use. While developing solutions via technological design and construction, students experience firsthand the relationship between science and technology. To capture students' interest, Motor Mania was selected as a theme, since the students are only a few years away from being able to drive and are very excited about cars.

What is Problem-Based Learning?

In problem-based learning experiences, students investigate real problems such as those scientists and engineers investigate (Greenwald, 2000). By solving problems as scientists and engineers do, students actively participate in hands-on, inquiry-based experiences (Schack, 1993). As a result, students seek solutions to problems by asking questions, investigating possibilities, testing solutions, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations based on their findings (Delisle, 1997). Throughout the process, students seek solutions to problems and make choices about their path of research as they work in teams and research the problem situation (Delisle, 1997). Learning abstract ideas becomes more concrete and realistic for students as the teacher creates a real situation in which the students can learn about the topic (Chin and Chia, 2004; Delisle, 1997; Schack, 1993).

Link Science and Technology

By exploring a topic with technology connections, students apply their science learning to technological design and construction. Grounded in human needs and interests, problem-based learning scenarios provide a realistic way in which this can happen. Students can experience firsthand the systematic design, construction, and testing of technological solutions. Students also experience firsthand the way that the efficiency of technological solutions can drive future science learning. Questions naturally occur, such as, "Could we come up with a better solution if we knew more science?"

Incorporate Technological Design

Most of the planning for problem-based learning experiences happens up front for teachers when they develop the overall structure and scenario for the investigation. Problem situations that take about two weeks to explore and solve work well for students. Start by identifying a topic, a problem to solve, a role for students, available resources, and a scenario in which the problem can take place (see Figure 1). After preliminary planning, the remainder of the experience is determined by the students. Motor Mania is a topic that lets students experience firsthand the relationship between science and an everyday technological application such as getting a car to function well.

For the problem, students are challenged to build a model car capable of handling different road conditions, which is a complex technological problem with multiple variables and potential solutions similar to the Technology Students Association's Transportation Challenge for middle school students. As a means of encouraging students to become engrossed in the problem, the teacher creates a scenario (see Figure 2). In this scenario the students become teams of automotive engineers attempting to build a model car capable of overcoming obstacles they encounter while driving from California to "Masonville" in Virginia and competing in a Grand Prix Challenge once they arrive in Virginia. The obstacles occur in two forms: "roadblocks" that are obstacles stemming from environmental and travel conditions (see Figure 3) and "detours" that are specific challenges the teams of automotive engineers encounter related to the physical characteristics of the terrain and the mechanical function of their cars (see Figure 4). …

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