Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Engineering, Modeling, and Computational Thinking

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Engineering, Modeling, and Computational Thinking

Article excerpt

The Next Generation Science Standards will include new emphasis on scientific and engineering practices that are basic to understanding science. One such practice, as described in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, is "Developing and Using Models" (NRC 2011, ES-3). Engineers use models to design solutions and test their strengths and limitations. Some models are physical, but nowadays computer modeling is more common. Unfortunately, many software programs used for modeling are complicated, expensive, and beyond the reach of high school science courses. In this column, we describe some exceptions, which are all freely available online (see "On the web").

West Point Bridge Designer is a powerful simulation application. Students are introduced to model testing by designing and testing a steel bridge, using realistic constraints and criteria. The application models the loads (e.g., forces, torque) acting on the struts and nodes that support the bridge bed. Students can identify areas that are likely to fail and overly robust designs.

Try Engineering offers more than two dozen virtual engineering activities. Most provide opportunities for students to design, model, and test solutions to authentic problems. For example, in "Solar Car Racer," students learn about photovoltaic cells as they select different components to optimize the performance of a solar-powered car. In the "Bionic Arm Challenge," they design and test a bionic arm based on common real-world constraints and criteria. Links to two NASA activities challenge students to build a parachute and provide a sophisticated model-rocket simulator.

Models also assist engineers in communicating ideas with their colleagues and clients. "Engineering communication involves not just written and spoken language," states A Framework for K-12 Science Education, "many engineering ideas are best communicated through sketches, diagrams, graphs, models, and products" (NRC 2011, p. 3-20).

Floorplanner, a web tool for designing floor plans, helps students begin understanding modeling concepts. Using the tool to design a house, for example, helps them develop spatial reasoning and an understanding of scaling--skills critical to designing effective models. …

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