Reflection: Rigor DESIGN LAB: Nitrogen (3 of 4) - Section 3: DEFINE: What is the problem?


Students need to be able to think like designers and environmental scientists. In the real world, problems need to be defined. The ability to do this is an essential skill. And problem definition happens most effectively through interpersonal communication. This is how science actually works; it's messy, it's not always efficient; and the conclusions to draw from results, or the questions to ask in the first place are not always clear.  Often the problem first identified is not actually the problem. This is a constant tension in a STEM course.  How much should a class reflect the often frustrating process of design and experimentation?  How much should a class allow students to understand well-developed concepts at the risk of glossing over the bumpy road followed to develop those concepts?

In this case, I could have just told students the problem. But how does that support their long-term growth as practicing scientists?  The rubric for STEM is the actual world.  It cannot be known in advance.  And in an activity like this, I am hoping to structure an experience that allows students to develop some understanding that science is really a messy process, even when it is almost always presented as a logical sequence of deeply understood products.

  Why ask students to define a problem?
  Rigor: Why ask students to define a problem?
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DESIGN LAB: Nitrogen (3 of 4)

Unit 5: Food (biosphere and geosphere)
Lesson 17 of 24

Objective: Students will be able to engage in an engineering design thinking cycle to develop a functional nitrogen cycle prototype from unique model ecoystems.

Big Idea: A functional nitrogen cycle is an essential part of healthy agricultural systems. How might we use models to help us understand how the nitrogen cycle becomes disrupted and what might be done to prevent disruption?

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