I start asking the students to think outside the classroom by examining world problems. Understanding that there are common world problems is one of my Thematic Strategies for Class Discussion. I continue to reiterate the thematic approach throughout the year by asking, "What can we design to help solve a world problem?"
I introduce the idea that scientists, engineers, and inventors work to make the world a better place. I ask the students if they can come up with an invention that was not invented to make the world a better place. Students will commonly say cigarettes, bombs, and the atom bomb. I introduce a question about warfare, "Without the bombs and the atom bomb, do you think the wars would have killed more people or fewer?"
We have a short and sometimes spirited discussion, concluding that no one really knows. I like the discussion because it is a higher level thinking activity. I'm asking the students to consider a familiar idea about what they believe to be true. Students need to activate prior knowledge and consider that what they know may not necessarily be true. The thinking involves analyzing a situation and synthesizing an unfamiliar outcome.
Then I say, "If engineers, scientists, and inventors work to make the world a better place, this means there are some big world problems." I ask them to write a problem that occurs all over the world, in the USA, Asia, and Africa. Students write down the world problems, we discuss the answers and I make a bulletin board. I explain that during the year we will come back to the bulletin board to discuss how a 13 and 14-year-old student can help solve world problems with their original design solutions. My purpose is to introduce the idea that their ideas are useful to adults.
I use definitions, short videos, and student experiences in an effort to get students to think about how inventions and innovations are the integration of science, technology, engineering, and math.
I start by asking students to develop a definition of science. I ask students to give me examples of how they understand the terms. I want to help them tie experiences with vocabulary so I encourage them to share science experiences to come up with the definition. Students explain that in 6th grade they wired a model of a house. I ask, "What science were you studying?" They explain electricity.
I explain that the study of electricity is physical science. After each sample, I point out whether they are referring to Life Science, Physical Sciences or Earth and Space Science. This is an important way to zing the student's brains to get them thinking about the different studies of science. As they discuss, I write the four disciplinary core ideas on the white board to be used as a reference. I use Dictionary.com and share the definition. The class tries to bring both definitions together in a statement like, "Science helps discover new knowledge."
I ask, "How would you define technology?" The answers are usually about how technology makes the world a better place. I ask, "Is the cell phone or the computer the only technology?" When students explain it is not, I ask, "What would be a technology to a cave man?" Students discuss a range of technological advances from wheels to forks and come up with several definitions. Again we compare this with the definition in Dictionary.com. "Technology: the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science." I ask students to compare their definitions and we look for one word to define what technology does. Typically we use the words knowledge - that creates things to make the world a better place."
I then ask, "What is engineering?" Students usually don't know. Some students explain that it is a job and it is how things work. I use the definition in Dictionary.com, "The art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants." I like to compare the definition between technology and engineering. I emphasize the words, "creation" from technology and "construction" from engineering to help students understand the difference. I ask, "What technologies have been created and then used in the creation of an invention or an innovation?" The class definition typically includes, "Knowledge used to design and build things."
"What is the role of math in technology and engineering?" Students typically explain dimensions and size. I ask, "If I were a bridge builder and did not have math, what would happen?" Usually students explain that the dimensions would not be right. I ask if I could get it right the first time and they all say,"No!" We discuss how it would be a waste of time and material to build a bridge through trial and error. I explain that math makes life easier. I explain that a bridge was built in the 1940's and the engineers thought they had all the right calculations but nature had a different idea. I show the film of the collapse of the Tacoma Bridge.
Finally we discuss the difference between an invention and an innovation. We will soon be completing an activity with the cell phone and I discuss how the cell phone has changed over the years.
I ask the students what they like best about their cell phones. I want them to think about how science, technology, engineering, and math come together in the invention and innovation of their cell phones. We use the definitions to help fill in ideas. I like to use Diane Zike's Foldables because they offer a way to organize information for students to later refer to or to study. The foldable is folded and glued in the engineering notebook. I ask them to fill in information in the foldable to check for understanding.
I want students to describe the Science Law, Theory, or Topic (Earth Science, Space Science, Physical Science, or Life Science) used in the invention of the cell phone in column one. I have had to help student understand radio waves in the use of a cell phone. Another common answer is the materials to create the glass that can be swiped by a finger.
Students describe the technology created for the cell phone. Common answers include writing programs for aps, microchips, creating an effective camera, and sound amplifiers (speakers and microphones). I ask them to consider the construction and the design of the cell phone for the Engineering column. Common answers include how to fit the camera in a space so small and how to create a design that can fit in the hand and is comfortable.
I ask them to think about useful math formulas. A common answer in the mathematics column is the size of the phone. I want them to be more specific on the math. I introduce the word dimension and ask for dimension equations. Some students will volunteer the formulas for area, surface area, perimeter and volume. I ask students to write the equations.
I have on occasion brought in other formulas useful in electricity. It did not go well. I felt it was too much technical information for the students. I keep the equations, electrical current, resistance, and Ohm's Law in my back pocket for differentiation. I want to offer additional learning when I need it.
One of the issues I have encountered in this lesson is student thinking. Some classes can immediately come up with useful answers. Some groups think about the wrong thing and begin off-topic discussions. I have had to stop the class and complete the lesson in a more structured way. I have students think about their answers, share with the table, and then share out to the whole class so everyone can help understand the concepts.
This is a great beginning to the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. If you are interested in digging deeper check out these BetterLesson lessons,
I wrap up the lesson by sharing answers between the student groups and with an exit slip. I ask the students to read answers to one another. I ask individual students to share the group responses. By sharing the information, the class discusses the group differences and similarities. I allow other groups to change their answers if they like one answer better than the one they wrote.
I want to assess student understanding because in the next activity, Dream Invention, the students will have to think about the integration of STEM by themselves and in smaller groups.
I ask the following questions after the table is complete.
How are our lives impacted by engineers?
How does technology change the way you live?
What is the difference between innovation and invention?