Create a light and sound show to entertain your friends. Design an improved safety device for a car. Develop a 2-3 minute voice-over for a sports clip explaining the physics involved in the sport. Modify the design of a roller coaster to meet the needs of a specific group of riders. Design an appliance package for a family limited by the power and energy of wind generator. Develop a museum exhibit to acquaint visitors with the atom and nucleus and create a product that can be sold at the museum store after visitors leave your exhibit. All of these challenges are part of Active Physics (2005), a high school curriculum developed with support from NSF, field tested with thousands of students and presently used across the country. The challenges (mentioned above) serve as a framing structure for the required science content. Each chapter (approximately five weeks of instruction) is introduced by way of a chapter challenge. The students upon hearing the challenge at first react with silence. We originally thought that the students’ silence indicated interest – a rapt awe. Upon interviewing, we found out that the students were in shock. How can they possibly succeed at such a challenge? The sports voice-over or light show or museum exhibit interested them, but their lack of knowledge surrounding the science content suppressed any enthusiasm that they might have for the topic. After the first months of school, with some success at the chapter challenges, the students approached the next challenge with cautious confidence that they would be able to learn the science content and could then use their creativity to complete the challenge. In this brief paper, I will outline the ways in which the chapter challenge is introduced, revisited and then completed. Included in the discussion will be how the chapter challenges are chosen, how we scaffold students’ learning so that they can be successful and the benefits of the chapter challenge. Active Physics is neither an engineering course nor a technology course. It uses engineering design as a way in which students can approach their chapter challenge, but engineering design must remain in the background of the physics content and curriculum.
Eisenkraft, Arthur, "Engineering Design Challenges in a Science Curriculum" (2011). Publications. Paper 168.