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ENGR 102 Gaining Ground in High Schools

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ENGR 102 Gaining Ground in High Schools

Sept. 12, 2013
Hands-on STEM lessons focus on water, energy, health care

New project-based course materials developed by the College of Engineering and recently introduced to STEM teachers in the University of Arizona’s ENGR 102 HS program are helping prepare high school teachers throughout the Southwest for rigorous new national science standards. ENGR 102 HS is a partnership with 28 high schools in Arizona and California in which students complete a UA introductory engineering course at their schools for college credit at reduced tuition.

"Engineering seems to be the forgotten child of STEM," said Mike Schmidt, a math teacher at University High School in Tucson, Ariz., one of the highest ranked public high schools in the nation. "We weave each of the aspects of STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- into our Engineering 102 High School classes and pack each project full of upper level math and science to show students how important those subjects are to practical applications."

AnnMarie Condes, a science teacher from Palo Verde High School in Tucson, tests her heart valve prototype during the University of Arizona 2013 ENGR 102 HS training.

Adapting College-Level Course to High School Setting

The new units were developed for the College’s required ENGR 102 freshman course to give students the opportunity to study topics in which they are particularly interested and increase the number and diversity of students involved in engineering.

"If we engage students in subject matter they see as personally interesting and significant, we can use these interests to drive the learning process and cultivate student commitment to engineering," said Jane Hunter, former associate director of the UA Engineering Management program, who led development of the new course units as part of a National Science Foundation STEM project.

If the overwhelmingly positive feedback from UA freshmen taking ENGR 102 is any indication, the units will be a hit among high school students as well.
"The best part of this was the relevancy to my world and the connections I was able to make between learning and my future," one UA ENGR 102 student commented in a recent survey about the course units.

Addressing Societal-Scale Problems with New Lessons

Dubbed GC DELI -- Grand Challenges: Discover, Explore, Learn, Imagine -- the six course units take their cue from the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges, a list of 14 societal-scale problems that engineers need to address over the next few generations.

The GC DELI units are focused largely on sustainable energy, improved urban infrastructure, clean water, and health-care advancements. One of the units, Engineering Better Human Health, was the first to be adapted to a high school classroom setting and is being offered this year through the UA's ENGR 102 HS program. The other units are being piloted in high schools this year and will be rolled out officially next year.

The new course units were introduced in July 2013 to 26 teachers during the College’s fourth annual ENGR 102 HS teacher training.

"The units allow high school teachers to get students involved in projects and areas of study that we don't necessarily have the experience to tackle alone," said Schmidt. "Being able to incorporate some of the more specific disciplines of engineering, especially biomedical, helps interest a wider variety of students in the course."

Customizing Course Activities for High School

Teachers participating in the program created activities, such as building models of a prosthetic hand and heart valve, to supplement the units for their classrooms, and ENGR 102 HS teachers headed back to school in August eager to get more future engineers doing engineering, not just learning it.

"One of the things we do with Engineering 102 for high school is allow the instructors to add their own ideas and projects to the UA core curriculum," said ENGR 102 HS coordinator Jill Rogers. "And the teacher workshops are an opportunity for them to share those ideas with one another."

The prosthetic hand activity that teachers at the workshop learned was part of a Replacing Body Parts lesson in the GC DELI unit on Engineering Better Human Health. It was developed by retired aerospace engineer Ken George, who teaches at Ironwood Ridge High School in Oro Valley, Ariz. George's background research on prosthetic hand activities did not turn up a project that fit the lesson, so in true engineering fashion, he invented one himself. The mechanical objective of the activity was to build -- using only Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, duct tape, string, small pieces of cardboard, drinking straws, and the tips of rubber dishwashing gloves -- a model of a hand that had the ability to pick up a small ball or rubber duck. It might look easy, but it isn't, George told teachers at the workshop.

"No student came up with the way I would have done it," he said as small groups of teachers began prototyping their prosthetic hands.

Similarly, the heart valve project, developed by Ben Davis at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, required students, and the teachers in training, to build -- using only wire, modeling clay, super glue, electrical and masking tape, aluminum foil and cardboard -- a heart valve inside clear plastic tubing connecting two water bottles.

Teachers at the workshop tested their designs by turning the two attached water bottles from one end to the other and squeezing; some worked better than others. No water leaks brought cheers from the teachers because, after all, as one teacher said, "What good is a replacement heart valve that leaks?"

"The new supplemental activities we have created will fit into the high school classroom quite well," said Sarah Streb, a science teacher at Tucson's Salpointe Catholic High School. "I am looking forward to using more and more of them in my ever-changing curriculum."

Adding Relevancy with Community Partners

Another way the UA is bringing relevancy to its ENGR 102 HS course, which has grown from one teacher and 21 students at one school in 2008-2009 to 28 schools with about 375 students taking the class today, is through EPICS, Engineering Projects In Community Service. In EPICS, students work with mentors in engineering fields on real-world projects that make a difference.

"Last year my students worked with all sorts of community partners -- from the Physics Factory, to the Tucson Children's Museum, to the National Forest Service," said Streb. "They created things that mattered. They learned how to communicate with real customers, access information and do research to become experts in their fields. The students met real deadlines, and they learned failure was not an option."

Prepping Teachers for Next Generation Science Standards

Beyond ENGR 102 HS, the University's annual summer training prepares high-school educators for a new way of teaching engineering and supports the Next Generation Science Standards, new voluntary national guidelines for teaching science.

"I have used the tools I have learned both in teaching Engineering 102 High School and to enrich my other classes with new and exciting projects," said Streb.

A handful of states, not including Arizona, have already adopted the new standards, based on the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council framework for K-12 science education. The guidelines stress hands-on learning and take a multidisciplinary approach that is more aligned with how research is done today and right in line with how the UA ENGR 102 HS program prepares STEM teachers.

"As a result of the Next Generation Science Standards, there is a national effort to create professional development programs for math and science teachers who need to learn about engineering," said Jim Baygents, College of Engineering associate dean of academic affairs. "We already have programs in place that are teaching science and math educators how to incorporate engineering in STEM education. We are ahead of the curve by several years."

The prosthetic hand activity in a new GC DELI lesson requires students (and ENGR 102 HS teachers in training) to design and build -- using only a few common household items -- a functional grasping mechanism.