Science vs. Engineering

I have read a couple of article lately exploring the difference between science and engineering and how to walk that line as we design inquiry labs. I loved this line from The Science Teacher in an article called Science and Engineering.

Explore and apply: Instructional design should involve labs in which students first explore a concept by studying the relationships between causes and effects (Marek, Maier, and McCann 2008). Once students have developed an understanding of how important variables affect an experimental situation, they can be challenged to use the engineering model and apply their newly formed conceptual understanding to generate a product or maximize an output. In this manner, the science model is employed early on in the exploration phase of the lesson, and the engineering model is used in a subsequent phase of the lesson as an application of student understanding.

I am going to try to add this distinction into my inquiry design. I find that is tend towards engineering experiments in physics class because the have definite easy to describe goals. Even if I design the inquiry around a big engineering question I should always ask myself: where in this unit is the science inquiry?

The whole article is worth a read, sorry it is not free on the internet.

Have you found any other useful distinctions between science and engineering? Do you have a checklist of that you go through when designing an inquiry?

Video Your Trials

Today in the student presentations I am learning that taking video of every trial in an experiment is both instinctive and essential for today inquiring minds.

In the attached example it was actually part of their planned data collection: they measure the height later in logger pro. But several of my students have used video of early trial to improve experimental process and or recover from errors. Great stuff and cellphones and iPods were out in force.

Learning and Ribs

Ribs in the smoker

I love ribs. I love them with BBQ and with rubs. I love them all year long. I can eat a lot of ribs. I love to look at them at the meat counter and pick out my ribs. I love to cook them. And I cook them like you have too... slow.

So here is what I observe about my heat and temperature inquiry. It was a process. And I think this is OK. Learning that takes time lasts. My objective was to have student run into a need to understand both specific heat and latent heat in their quest to show me a scenario that matched my conditions. Many groups did. I would get great questions and answer them with more questions. This was especially true as student prepared their presentations. One of the main components of the presentation is telling us what a physics professor would have said would happen. They dig into the book and the wikipedia and the physics classroom trying to figure out what someone more trained might say, and they come with more questions. Many times questions that I do not know the answer to.

It just feels like it take a long time. Mainly because, like tasting the ribs after hours of cooking, I know how good it is when you understand something new about the world. I find myself explaining things perhaps more often, and in orders that I would not have chosen, but students hang on the words. Instead of me wondering if they have ever cracked the text, they come with it open asking for help with a passage.

By the way, not every group gets there. Some get it during the presentations when I highlight stuff and ask questions. Others seem to need a problem set to get it. Some need the first quiz, but even that is fine because they can take it until they are happy (SBG!). Some probably escape from the topic somehow, just like they always have, it is just not as many as it used to be.

Lab as Story

A quick post as my students are working on making presentations on their labs. I am absolutely convinced that giving them time to really dig into their data, and then making the present their results and compare their results to "book answers" is producing great learning. Here is how I know. In most cases there is a story line that has developed. The students have uncovered something about the world or themselves that they never would have known about, and they are working on how to incorporate that into future inquiry and other student's inquiry.