Academic journal article Science Scope

WISEngineering Hydroponics: A Technology-Enhanced, Life Science Engineering Design Unit

Academic journal article Science Scope

WISEngineering Hydroponics: A Technology-Enhanced, Life Science Engineering Design Unit

Article excerpt

The WISEngineering hydroponics project aims to help students develop their understanding of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. WISEngineering is a free online, engineering-design learning environment that scaffolds engineering design by guiding students through explicit design processes such as identifying specifications and constraints, and ideating, testing, evaluating, and refining design solutions (Figure 1). It draws upon the Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE; Slotta and Linn 2009), the knowledge-integration learning perspective (Linn and Eylon 2011), and an informed engineering-design approach (Burghardt and Hacker 2004) to help students develop connected science and engineering understanding (Chiu and Linn 2011).

As part of the informed engineering-design approach, units are carefully developed so that specifications and constraints of the design challenge address common alternative ideas (e.g., Schnittka and Bell 2010), so that students' design solutions encourage thoughtful refinement of scientific ideas. Common pitfalls of engineering activities in classrooms include students focusing on superficial aspects of design or mindless tinkering without connection to scientific principles. An informed-design approach helps address these common pitfalls by making sure successful design solutions rely on accurate understanding of scientific concepts. For example, the hydroponics unit targets the common alternative idea that plants eat soil (e.g., Anderson, Sheldon, and Dubay 1990). By focusing students' design efforts around building a system for plants to grow without soil, students are motivated to reconsider and revise initially inaccurate ideas to meet the criteria of the project.

The design of the hydroponics unit went through multiple iterations, with feedback from science teachers and engineering and science experts. A major challenge that arose during development was finding sufficient classroom time for students to design and test solutions for living systems, as plants needed time to grow (or not grow) to determine the success of the students' designs. Working with the participating teachers, we developed the unit so that a week of total instructional time was distributed over four weeks, with students engaging with the project once a week. Students do not need any prior knowledge about the topic or engineering. The computer-based learning environment will, with the support of the teacher, guide students in grades 5-8 to develop understanding of photosynthesis and cellular respiration through a hands-on engineering design project.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

FIGURE 3 Overview of initial prototypes for hydroponics systems

             Design source  Instructions
Prototype 1  WISE design    Fill a plastic cup half full with water
                            and placegerminated seed in cup.
Prototype 2  WISE design    Fill plastic cup (water cup) with water
                            to a height of 1 cm. Using scissors,
                            poke holes in the bottom of a second cup
                            (seed cup) and thread roots through.
                            Place the seed cup in the water cup and
                            wedge a paper towel between the cups so
                            the seed cup isabove the water.

                            Materials needed
Prototype 1                 Plastic cup, water,
                            geminated seed
Prototype 2                 Two plastic cups, a pair
                            of scissors, paper towel,
                            water, germinated seed

Classroom implementation

The hydroponics module starts with the introduction of a relevant real-world problem to motivate student learning (Mehalik, Doppelt, and Schunn 2008). At the beginning of the unit, students explore why people would need to grow plants without soil, giving example contexts of urban areas or space exploration. …

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