Designing a Solar Car Part 2

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SWBAT conduct research in an effort to determine the best design for a solar car.

Big Idea

What do we need to know? Students develop research questions to learn more about the design of solar cars. They conduct the research and use it to inform their design decisions.


10 minutes

Part 2 of Designing a Solar Car is distinguishable because students are developing design solutions. My strategy, Using Conceptual Modeling to understand science content, is used as students draw preliminary solar car designs. My next strategy, Uncovering Science Concepts using Research, is used as students write and find the answers to their own research questions. I embed content in the research component and assess student understanding using a strategy called It Is/It Isn't. 

Research Questions

10 minutes

Students have conducted Solar Car Design Part 1. Now it is time to find out important information about solar cars. The class works together to determine the best research questions. I ask them, "What do you want to know about solar cars?" To help students develop research questions, I use a strategy called Group Responsibility. Groups of students develop research questions. As the students are sharing their research question ideas, I embed science content at this point. I use a strategy called Adding Content Questions.  I explain, "If you are designing solar cars there are some important things you need to know."  I ask them to add science content questions to their research questions. The students write, "How can the solar car be designed to take advantage of aerodynamics?" "How can Newton's laws help in our design of a solar car?" "How do solar panels work?

In the file Solar Car Questions, you can see the questions the class developed. 

In the movie the groups of students are sharing their questions. I like how their questions are different. 

Conducting Research

45 minutes

At this point I change student groups. My strategy is to challenge existing group dynamics. I don't want the same student group to get into a rut. Sometimes they all depend upon one student to answer the questions or do the work. I want to switch the groupings to avoid group complacency.

I explain that teams are going to divvy up questions. My purpose is to allow each student to contribute to the learning. In addition, it is authentic for engineers to work as a team. I like my students to be dependent upon one another. 

After each student knows the questions they will answer, I explain the assignment. "This paper is like a bibliography card and a note card in Language Arts. You will answer the question and tell me the source."  I explain, "You may include images or movies that help you learn the answers as long as the images are labeled and explained." My strategy is to use visual imagery to promote understanding. 

"Take notes or cut and paste answers on the research answer document and record the url." This document will be used as a reference. Students are able to go back to the answers as they need information. They will use the url to get to the sites they need when defending their designs. The purpose of this activity is to develop a resource, not to provide me with a document that I can use to assess what they know. This is a reference page with answers and URLs. I use it so students can easily access answers as they design. 

Students go to their own computers to conduct the research and answer the questions. I walk around the room seeking misconceptions. I will use the misconceptions as ancillary lessons after the research is completed. For example, there was a lot of misunderstanding about how solar panels work so I created the lesson, Solar Panel Technology. 

At this point the students have developed research questions and they have answered the questions. I ask them to read over their answers and their partners answers to consider the question, "What is the most important information necessary for designing a solar car?" In Designing a Solar Car Part 3 they will discuss the information with table groups. 

In the Solar Car Research Answers, you can see how a student uses images to help develop their understanding of solar cars. 

Design Solutions

5 minutes

Students have completed research and have a good idea about how solar cars work. Now it is time to design. My strategy is to use conceptual models to promote understanding. Before asking them to draw the design ideas, I ask, "How many design ideas do you think engineers come up with?" Students respond using fingers on their hands. Most students will hold up all ten fingers. I ask, "Why do engineers want to develop more than one idea?" Students respond, "In case one design fails." "To test more than one idea" "Just to have another idea on hand if you need it." All of these are great ideas and I ask students to develop four distinctly different ideas. In the movie below I am introducing the strategy to my students.  



Students draw four preliminary designs. They draw the design and then write one or two sentences explaining why it is a good design idea. The students will choose one of the Solar Car Designs to develop for the design defense.