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We have developed multiple design focused curricula for our projects. Our curricula provide students with opportunities to explore science ideas within a meaningful context to solve a design challenge integrating science content and practices. Students work like scientists and engineers to engage in research, collect and interpret data, and construct scientific arguments and explanations based on evidence.

Curriculum Units

Growing Healthy Plants!

Growing enough plants to feed an increasing global population can be very difficult. Besides providing the right soil, nutrients, and water, farmers must deal with a variety of issues, such as invasive species, disease-causing bacteria and fungus, pests, and climate change. Additionally, there is limited fertile land to grow food crops. Thus, growing lots of food for an increasing population requires a lot of science and engineering! The design challenge for the Growing Healthy Plants unit asks students to make recommendations for growing healthy plants, such as the traits, or characteristics, that healthy plants should have and the kinds of environments that can help them grow. To solve their challenge, students participate in hands-on activities and virtual experiments to learn about growing healthy plants. They explore how environmental factors, such as soil, light, and water, as well as plants’ genetics influence plants’ growth and reproduction to create a habitat to grow as much food as possible using limited space and resources to feed a growing population. Along with engaging in a wide range of science practices, students learn about processes of growth and development of organisms, variation and inheritance of genetic traits, and the interactions between living and non-living things in ecosystems.


Make Your Own Compost!

Americans generate a lot of trash each year, approximately 250 million tons! A large percentage of this trash ends up in landfills. Aside from the negative impact landfills have on the environment, such as emitting nearly 6.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, it is also very expensive to move trash around and safely manage such a mammoth waste stream. However, many things we throw into landfills can be used to make compost, which can provide valuable nutrients to our gardens and farms. While scientists and engineers know a lot about the composting process, there are still many unanswered questions about how to engineer more effective composting systems. To help minimize the amount of waste going into landfills students are challenged to work together to create composting program for their school that ensures that the compost breaks down quickly and contains a lot of nutrients. To solve this challenge, students move back and forth between conducting physical and virtual experiments, using a physical soda bottle bioreactor and a compost simulation, to learn about the science of composting. Through conducting these investigations, students learn about the factors that affect decomposition along with learning about the role of organisms in ecosystems and the cycling of matter and the transformation of energy in ecosystems.


Inclined Plane Design Challenge!

Understanding the physics of inclined planes can help us to decrease the amount of force needed to do work and more easily accomplish a multitude of real-world tasks, such as designing ramps for people with limited mobility to gain access to buildings. The premise for the inclined plane design challenge is that students are borrowing a mini pool table from a friend to use at a birthday party. They need to figure out how to get the mini pool table into a moving van to get it to their house using the least applied force and work. To solve the challenge, students set up and conduct several physical and virtual inclined plane experiments to learn about how factors such as the height and length of an inclined plane, along with the amount of friction on its surface, affects the amount of applied force and work it takes to move the mini pool table. They also explore the relationships between energy and work, mechanical advantage and applied force, and the trade-off between force and distance when doing work with any simple machine.


Pulley Design Challenge!

Whether we think about it or not, we rely on pulleys every day to get work done! From the cranes towering over buildings at construction site to the lifting and lowering our window blinds, pulleys help us to do tasks that would be very difficult to accomplish without them. In our pulley unit, students are challenged to design a pulley system to lift a very heavy mascot statue on to a pedestal located on the front lawn of the school using the least amount of applied force possible. Students work toward solving this challenge by setting up and conducting several physical and virtual pulley experiments to test their ideas for the best design to lift the statue and meet the design constraints. For example, they test several independent variables, such as the type of pulley system and the height to lift the mascot statue, to understand how the changes in the independent variables affects the applied force, potential energy, work, and mechanical advantage. Exploring these relationships helps them to learn about the force – distance trade-off when using simple machines to reduce the amount of force needed to accomplish difficult tasks.


Roller Coaster Design Challenge!

Many people love the rush of adrenaline that they experience on a roller coaster ride! But few people think about the physics involved in designing roller coasters that optimize fun while ensuring riders’ safety. The roller coaster design challenge is focused on helping the Gonzales family, who own and run a large amusement park. In recent years, attendance at the Gonzales’ amusement park has been dropping and they want to add a new roller coaster to increase park attendance. Students are challenged to act as scientists and engineers to design an exciting but safe roller coaster and to submit proposals to the Gonzales family providing an explanation about their roller coaster design, the physics behind their choices, and why their roller coaster is both fun and safe. To learn about the physics underlying the fun and safely of roller coasters, students perform multiple experiments using a roller coaster simulation to test their ideas. They learn about physics concepts like force, motion, and energy. They also explore the relationships between several factors, such as the height and shape of the different parts of the roller coaster and how changing these this affects the amount of velocity and acceleration riders’ experience.