Academic journal article Science Scope

Greenhouse Design: An Engineering Unit

Academic journal article Science Scope

Greenhouse Design: An Engineering Unit

Article excerpt

Do you ever wonder how you can meaningfully incorporate engineering into science teaching? Engineering can make many science content topics more relevant and engaging for students and presents an opportunity to connect science with real-world experiences. For example, engineering-based Earth Day activities that address environmental problems help students gain deeper understanding and awareness of environmental issues. While several national education reform documents, including Engineering in K-12 Education (NAE and NRC 2009), A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012), and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013), strongly promote K-12 engineering education, integrating engineering with science is challenging for many teachers. This article presents strategies middle school science teachers can use to assess and implement engineering activities and provides a sample engineering uni using STEM integration that was designed following these strategies.

Early in an ecosystems unit, a class of seventh-grade students receives a memo from an imaginary business that specializes in landscaping and irrigation of infertile environments. The company is looking to make the Northern Territory of Australia more habitable for humans and wants to design and build greenhouses in this area that would cause as little disruption as possible to the ecosystem. Throughout this two-week unit, students learn about the grassland biome, which is a natural system in the Northern Territory of Australia, in terms of the relationships among its living and nonliving parts, as well as inputs and outputs. Students then design and build a model greenhouse suitable to this area and, at the culmination of the unit, share their design with their classmates before they present their portfolio to the fictional company. The unit was designed to address the scientific and engineering practices dimension and ETS1: Engineering Design and LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics disciplinary core ideas in the Framework (NRC 2012).

The components of a good engineering unit

Teaching engineering in science classes requires basic knowledge about, engineering design, engineering practices, and the key components of a quality, STEM-integrated engineering activity. Moore et al. have identified six central components of a STEM-integrated engineering unit (forthcoming). STEM-integrated engineering units should

* have a meaningful, motivating, and engaging context.

* have learners participate in an engineering design task for a compelling purpose that involves problem-solving skills and ties to context.

* allow learners to learn from failure and then have the opportunity to redesign.

* include appropriate, standards-based science or mathematics content.

* teach content with student-centered pedagogies.

* promote communication skills and teamwork.

We describe each of these components in the context of a middle school STEM unit that uses engineering design as the vehicle to teach ecosystems, environments, measurement, and proportion. The unit includes 10 lessons (see Figure 1 for an overview; the complete set of lessons is available with the online version of this article at and requires at least 10 90-minute class periods. It starts with introducing students to the engineering challenge: building greenhouses in the Northern Territory of Australia. The second and the third lessons are dedicated to developing some of the science background that will help students solve the engineering challenge. In lessons 4 through 9, students complete the engineering challenge. Finally, in lesson 10, students explore the effects of human activities on the Northern Territory of Australia and present their final product.

Setting the context

Giving an engineering lesson or unit a realistic, meaningful context is critical to engage students and motivate learning. …

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