I teach a college-level Introduction to Engineering course, and on the first day of class I ask the students what sparked their interest in engineering. In general, the answers fall into three categories: 1) they have an older relative who’s an engineer; 2) as kids they took things apart to see how they work; or 3) they played with Legos when they were young. (I’m in group 2; my son is in the other two categories.)
If you want to get young people interested in engineering, it’s never too early to plant that seed. Not every kid has an engineer in the family, so it’s important that schools provide hands-on experience. That’s why I’m excited about the Wave Energy Engineering project created by Oregon State University. Bill Hanshumaker, Chief Scientist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center, and Alan Perrill, a volunteer at the center, designed a wave energy device that’s made from off-the-shelf parts and can be constructed by a middle school student. Ruby Moon, Marine Renewable Energy Program Associate with Oregon Sea Grant Extension, then designed a complete lesson plan that provides background information and detailed instructions for building the wave-to-electricity device.
In addition to the parts list and assembly instructions, the lesson plan includes links to YouTube videos about wave power, web sites with wave energy information, brief overviews of applicable theories, and suggestions for further experiments and design modifications. As an educator and instructional designer, I like the way she mixes theory with practice, providing motivation, information, and exploration to keep the learners engaged with the project.
In order to test the curriculum, the designers led a workshop for 25 Oregon science educators. All of the teachers were able to get their projects working, although many had to do some troubleshooting along the way. The Hatfield Marine Science Center has a wave tank for testing real wave power generators; the science teachers were given access to the wave tank to test their projects.
This goes way beyond renewable energy and engineering; this is how science needs to be taught. Far too many students can memorize facts yet fail to understand the practical consequences related to those facts. Science and engineering are rooted in the experimental method, and should be taught using project-based learning that encourages experimentation, trial-and-error, and critical thinking. This is a wave that all educators should catch!
Click the Read More link for a detailed project description and a link to the lesson plan.