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Creating an Engineering Learning Module for the Technology Learning Center

Creating an Engineering Learning Module for the Technology Learning Center

By Heather Blackwell, Bryan Licciardi and Anthony Trinh

Advisors: Theodore Crusberg and Michelle Ephraim

Sponsor: Boston Museum of Science

Executive Summary

This project team assisted the Museum of Science in creating learning modules that teach engineering to middle-school students. This endeavor involved interpreting the educational goals of Massachusetts middle schools and translating those goals into interactive learning modules, defined as educational activities that are supplemented by preand post-visit activities.

While the Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework adopted in May 2001 requires that middle-school students learn engineering, many teachers lack the formal training to implement the engineering aspect of the curriculum. At the same time, teachers also struggle with the constraints as they prepare students for the MCAS exam.

The Museum of Science readily volunteers itself as a resource for teachers as part of their initiative to become a leader in informal science and technology education. To this end, the non-profit organization strives to offer different resolutions to challenges teachers face in implementing the engineering components of the Massachusetts curriculum.

The newly constructed Technology Learning Center (TLC) is a byproduct of the Museum's latest initiative to become an informal education leader. The TLC houses courses and programs which cover a broad range of subject areas including adult technology education and family enrichment. The Museum of Science would like to use the TLC to teach fundamentals of engineering to middle-school students in an effort to lessen the burden on teachers and increase the Museum's appeal to school audiences.

The teams' interpretation of the goals of Massachusetts middle schools resulted in academic objectives for the learning module. After careful analysis, the project team decided that the engineering design process was the most fundamental engineering concept that students should understand. Technologies dominate the Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework while the engineering design process lays the foundation necessary to understand the concept of technology. Thus, the project team clearly saw the priority for the engineering design process as the learning objective for the learning module. Based on this underlying concept, the project team created a template which facilitated fast prototyping of learning modules. Feedback from Museum staff and careful analysis narrowed down the candidates to a single learning module: Break Stuff

Break Stuff is complimented by classroom activities that take place before and after a the Museum visit itself. The pre-visit activity requires that students solve an Egyptian puzzle found on the Museum website. The puzzle will reveal a hieroglyphic mission for the students, familiarizing them with their upcoming Museum agenda while introducing them to hieroglyphics. The post-visit activity, also online-based, will allow students to provide feedback to the Museum about how they would redesign the activity.

The students will be motivated by a descriptive story which will set the tone for their Museum visit. To start, the student teams are given a mission to deliver a secret hieroglyphic message to the Pharaoh. To protect the message from bandits and other perils, the message is divided, engraved onto multiple Egyptian artifacts whose identities are kept undisclosed, and delivered separately. By accident, the mystery artifacts are broken into several pieces (with the artifact hidden from view inside a brown paper bag, the students are given the chance to break the artifacts themselves). To complete their objective, the student teams must first think as engineers and reassemble their artifacts. Each team is asked to search in the Egyptian exhibit for an artifact that matches the actual artifact's design specifications and clues. The students will use a picture of the matching artifact as a guide in their rebuilding effort. Upon completion of the reconstruction, the students use educational software to translate their segments of the hieroglyphic message and then, by collaborating with each other, deliver the full message to the Pharaoh.

The students undergo the engineering design process in the reconstruction portion of the learning module. Students first identify the problem: reconstruct the artifact. Next, the students research the possible materials they could utilize to reassemble the pieces. The student teams then brainstorm and develop solutions hypothesize the identity of the artifact given the design specifications and find attainable materials to rebuild the artifact. Then, the students select the best solution: use the most appropriate materials to reassemble the mystery artifact. Afterwards, the teams construct a prototype: reassemble the artifact, and then test and evaluate it using advanced computer tools and the Cubit ruler. The students then communicate their process of reconstruction, briefly discussing the failures and successes in their attempt.

The project team selected the Egypt as a theme because of its popularity as a Museum exhibit. From discussion with the Museum staff, the project team learned that in the past, the Egyptian exhibit attracted large crowds of which school groups were a part. The project team so inferred that a link to this exhibit would theoretically draw large school groups to the corresponding TLC program. The Egypt connection would particularly interest middle schools because of the requirement for Ancient Egypt according to the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.

Due to time limitations, actual implementation of the learning module was not possible, and thus, evaluative measures were also not feasible. For the future, the project team suggests that the learning module be executed with a middle-school-level audience. Development of the candidate learning modules is also suggested in order for the Museum to broaden its upcoming engineering programs. Any forthcoming projects should take advantage of the Museum's evaluation team in the development of a successful learning module.

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Last modified: Jul 26, 2002, 17:20 EDT
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