Day 4 of 4--Engineering a Calorimeter: Modifying and Re-testing a Prototype to Inform Final Product Build

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SWBAT make modifications to their calorimeter prototype and test for success in function in order to develop a final product that they will use in a subsequent lab investigation (measuring specific heat capacity of an unknown metal).

Big Idea

Prototypes can be modified, re-tested, and undergo multiple iterations until a final product meets desired standards.

Why This Lesson?

This lesson is the fourth, and last, of a four day process.  The goal of this lesson series is to allow students the experience of testing materials, designing a prototype, testing it, and making modifications.  The final product (in this case, a calorimeter) will then be used in a subsequent specific heat capacity investigation, LAB: What Metal Is This? Using Student Engineered Calorimeters in Lab.

In Disciplinary Core Idea ETS1.A, students are expected to define and delimit engineering problems, following specific criteria and constraints.  This sequence of lessons exposes students to the engineering design process from start to finish.

During the calorimeter design process, students will need to test different materials to see which retains heat more effectively.  This engages students in planning and carrying out investigations (SEP 3), analyzing and interpreting data (SEP 4), and designing solutions (SEP 6).  Students are engaged in exploring thermal energy transfer and how to prevent it, addressing many core ideas in Disciplinary Core Idea PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer.

Day Four involves making modifications in order to improve an existing calorimeter prototype's function.  Students design their own procedures and tests, and should end up with a final, improved product by the end of today's lesson.


Links to the other three lessons in this series:

Day 1 of 4--Engineering a Calorimeter: What is a Prototype?

Day 2 of 4--Engineering a Calorimeter: Designing and Testing a First Prototype

Day 3 of 4--Engineering a Calorimeter: Testing and Re-designing 


Student Group Working Time

45 minutes

I have told students during our previous three days of lessons that the fourth day would be our last on this project.  At this point, student groups should have built their first prototype and tested it.  Some groups will have began their testing of their modified prototype during Day 3.  Today, all groups need to test their modified prototype and make any final adjustments until they feel they have made the best calorimeter possible with the specified materials, during the allotted time.

While students continue working through the engineering process, I will check in with each group to make sure that they are on track and can successfully finish a product that can be used in the next day's lesson (LAB: What Metal Is This? Using Student Engineered Calorimeters In Lab).

Whole Class Debrief

10 minutes

With about 10 minutes left of our class period, I begin a debriefing discussion with the whole class.  I begin by telling students to spend the next 5 minutes discussing the following questions (which I have written on the whiteboard just prior to calling for attention):

  • What were the steps in the engineering process that you completed over the past four days?
  • What was easy about this process?
  • What was challenging about this process?
  • What would you do differently if you had to engineer another product in the future?

I choose the first question because I want students to identify what it is that they did before being asked to articulate what was easy and what was challenging about it.  This gives students the vocabulary to describe the process in our discussion.  I also deliberately use the word "engineering" because it is typically perceived as being a very difficult process and that only the "smartest" people become engineers.  I am hoping to instill a sense of pride in my students that they were successful engineers today.

After students discuss in their groups what their answers to the questions are, I tell them that I will call on each group to give me a 30 second answer explaining either what was easy or what was challenging.  Then, I quickly go around the room allowing a student from each group to quickly share out.