Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Plants V. Pollutants: Bringing Engineering Design Practices and Real-World Context to the Science Classroom

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Plants V. Pollutants: Bringing Engineering Design Practices and Real-World Context to the Science Classroom

Article excerpt


Teachers typically teach subjects separately. But integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculums that focus on real-world practices are gaining momentum (NAE and NRC 2009). In fact, engineering education may "act as a catalyst for a more interconnected and effective K-12 STEM education system in the United States" (NAE and NRC 2009; p. 1). Before release of the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States 2013), 36 states already had a strong presence of engineering in their science or technology standards (Carr, Bennett, and Strobel 2012). Now, NGSS positions engineering design in science curricula and promotes its use across practices shared by science and engineering (Figure 1).

Model-eliciting activities

Model-eliciting activities (MEAs) require students to develop models, apply NGSS science and engineering practices, and use an engineering design process commonly found in K-12 curricula (Diefes-Dux et al. 2008; Cunningham 2007). Rather than designing and testing a physical model, students design and test a mathematical model that demonstrates, explains, or illustrates the problem-solving process. These open-ended, thought-revealing problems engage students in design tasks that require few resources. Unlike typical hands-on engineering projects such as building bridges, MEAs are "minds-on" activities that encourage students to design, refine, and negotiate solutions. Students work through multiple iterations, considering constraints and trade-offs before they find the best solution (NAE and NRC 2009). The teacher uses coaching strategies--prompting thinking, challenging responses, monitoring group communications, and intervening when groups develop overly simple solutions.

MEAs closely resemble the problems of industrial engineers, who design process-oriented solutions and communicate them to colleagues, clients, or users. With MEAs, the teacher presents a problem and relevant data, and students then work through the Model Development Process to

1. define the problem,

2. design multiple solutions and collaborate on one group solution,

3. test the solution with new data, and

4. refine the solution through another iteration of the Model Development Process.



Connections to the standards.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS
Lead States 2013).

HS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity

HS-ETS1 Engineering Design

Science and Engineering Practices

* Developing and Using Models

* Analyzing and Interpreting Data

* Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Disciplinary Core Idea

* Human Impacts on Earth Systems (ESS3.C)

Crosscutting Concept

* Systems and System Models. Students design
and test a model that demonstrates, explains,
or illustrates their problem-solving process.

Common Core State Standards
(NGAG and CCSSO 2010)

* RST.11-12.9: Synthesize information from a range
of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations)
into a coherent understanding of a process,
phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting
information when possible.

* Speaking and Listening Sl.11-12.1: Respond
thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize
comments, claims, and evidence made on
all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions
when possible; and determine what additional
information or research is required to deepen
the investigation or complete the task.

Florida Science Standards

Science's effect on society's decision-making,
alternative solutions to societal problems based
on human and environmental costs, and large-scale
environmental impacts of human activities (Florida
Department of Education 2014).


Six principles of a model-eliciting
activity (MEA).

The following six principles guide MEA development
and ensure that the activity meets the criteria for
an MEA (Lesh et al. 2000). The model construction
and reality principles ensure that the problem
has multiple solutions and is realistic, often in the
context of a problem that an engineer would solve. … 
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