2006 AE Life Science Summer Academy a HUGE Success!

This past June, 55 middle grade (5-9) science teachers from the Denver Metro area attended the 2006 Life Science Summer Academy Workshop on the Colorado School of Mines campus. Teachers strengthened their life science knowledge (botany, zoology, ecology, biology) and deepened their understanding through fieldtrips and hands-on inquiry-based activities.

Colorado School of Mines and University of Colorado at Denver teamed up to present the 2006 Life Science Summer Academy Workshop hosted on the Colorado School of Mines campus on June 20-29. The workshop was a huge success with 55 middle grade (5-9) science teachers from the Denver Metro area in attendance. Teachers strengthened their life science knowledge (botany, zoology, ecology, biology) and deepened their understanding through fieldtrips and hands-on inquiry-based activities. Fieldtrips included a visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens, the Summit Loop (in and around the foothills of Golden) as well as the occasional scavenger hunt on the Colorado School of Mines campus. The workshop, delivered in an inquiry-based fashion, covered many of the Colorado Model Content Standards in Life Science including ecosystems, plant & animal adaptations, photosynthesis & respiration, water cycle, CO2 & O2 cycles, measuring environment changes and factors that affect environments.

In addition to expanding their life science knowledge base, participants also completed and learned how to implement two adventure-driven, inquiry-based, life science units (Lost in the Amazon and Save the Biosphere) in their classrooms. The Lost in the Amazon unit revolves around a team of engineers (the students) crashing in the Amazon Rainforest requiring them to use what's among the wreckage and indigenous to the Amazon to survive and navigate back to civilization. Student teams design, build & test water purification systems, classify plants, animals & insects, evaluate food chains, build model shelters & rafts, and perform route assessment. The Save the Biosphere unit involves a secret ecosystem, Biosphere 3, on Mars that is failing. Student teams build a scaled-down model of Biosphere 3 to study how and why it is failing. Each team then designs and conducts experiments in photosynthesis, soil and cellular respiration and the water cycle as well as monitors the Biosphere 3 changes with sensors. Both of these Adventure Engineering units are scalable, team-based and integrate literacy and math topics in many of the activities. Workshop participants were given both the Lost in the Amazon and Save the Biosphere Adventure Engineering classroom kits to keep and implement in their classrooms.

Mike Mooney, Colorado School of Mines
Mike Marlow, Univ. of Colorado at Denver
Karen Johnson, Adams Twelve School District

5th Graders Lost in the Amazon

Students in 4th and 5th grade science and math classes in Oklahoma and Colorado gain a better understanding of engineering and learn that science and math can be fun during their two-week Adventure Engineering curricula unit Lost in the Amazon.

Prior to the Lost in the Amazon unit, the majority of the students exhibited a poor understanding of engineering. Yet despite this limited knowledge, the thought of doing extensive hands-on activities excited the majority of the students, resulting in significant interest in the Adventure Engineering program's Lost in the Amazon curricular unit. Students commented that they had "never done fancy experiments" and were wondering what engineering is and how it "can be fun?" This excitement towards the hands-on activities was maintained throughout implementation. By having fun with Lost in the Amazon, students seemingly changed their conception that engineering "can't be exciting," as exemplified when students occasionally skipped recess to do extension activities and frequently asked if they could take [the projects] home.

After celebrating their arrival to safety with a spotlight in the evening news, the percentage of students with a good or excellent understanding of engineering rose from 7% to 26%, and the percentage of students with a poor understanding of engineering decreased from 60% to 20%. In addition, most 4th and 5th grade students seemed to grasp basic engineering principles such as planning, designing, and investigating alternatives. Moreover, the importance of teamwork in engineering seemed to become more familiar to the students as the activities continued. Students were capable of noting that a good engineer plans before building, investigates alternatives, and knows that there is no wrong answer when designing.

Flush with their recent successes in Surviving the Amazon, the students now anxiously await their next exciting Adventure Engineering experience! Will it be Seizing the Fuego? Or perhaps the Cape Horn Triathlon? Stay tuned!

AE At the Zoo

In spring of 2003, over 3000 Oklahoma City area elementary students experience Adventure Engineering activities at the Oklahoma City zoo. Students participated in the Bridge Adventure, Toboggan Adventure, Earthquake!, and Virtual Sound Machine.

At the Bridge Adventure, students learned about tension, compression and torsion by twisting bars of foam rubber; they built an arch bridge from wooden blocks; they walked on a beam bridge with a two-by-four in two different orientations, to learn how the depth of a beam influences the strength of the beam; and they wore cables that stretched between their arms and rested on their heads, so they could experience the force of a suspension bridge.

The Toboggan Adventure challenged students to build a toboggan from craft sticks, paper clips, waxed paper, etc. The constraint on the toboggan was that it had to fit inside a special box; the toboggans were then tested for speed as they were sent down a 10 ft ramp. The names of the builders of the fastest toboggans were written on a display board.

Earthquake! had a poster with introductory information about earthquakes, but the star of that station was the shake table borrowed from the OU Department of Civil Engineering. A five-story building was set into motion by the shaker; students could adjust the frequency of the simulated quake. Amazingly, by carefully adjusting the frequencies, the middle floor could be coerced into a compete standstill, while on the floors above and below there was still "a whole lotta shakin' goin' on!"

The Virtual Sound Machine had several accelerometers connected to a computer. When students moved their hands above the accelerometers, the motion caused a music clip to play. The wave associated with the motion of their hands was displayed on the computer screen. With a little bit of practice, it appeared that some of the students might have a future as a disk jockey!

At the Simple Machines station, students used pullies to lift a 25 lb weight. They found that it was pretty heavy when they just used one pulley; it got easier when they used 2 pullies; but it was easy as pie when they used three pulleys to lift the weight. Students also tried to lift a load with a lever that had a moveable fulcrum. They found the task was much easier when the fulcrum was close to the load.

For some of the students, this was the first time they had heard of engineering in context other than as a guy who drives a train. They had a lot of fun, while at the same time they got a chance to experience some of the aspects of engineering-design, experimentation, and research.

Middle School Engineers Save Lives During the Asteroid Impact

Student teams from Denver Public Schools and Oklahoma City area public schools took part in Asteroid Impact, a two-week adventure-based earth science and engineering curricular unit. A one-mile diameter asteroid is heading straight for earth.

The asteroid impact will create an uninhabitable environment on the earth's surface for a full year. The student engineers, are tasked with designing underground caverns to save the lives of millions of people! Motivated by the need to determine the most suitable location(s) for underground caverns, students study geological maps, determine population size and locations, and perform tests on rocks and minerals to determine the appropriate properties. Student teams gather their data through internet research and laboratory testing. They then must analyze rock properties, geographical information, and cavern needs to determine the best locations for underground caverns.

The students were extremely enthusiastic about the Asteroid Impact activities. They were very successful with the open ended brainstorming activities and were able to identify the problem and work effectively as a team towards a solution. The student teams were excited by the opportunity to defend their answer during final presentations. Teachers also expressed an increase in student interest and attitudes towards learning during the Asteroid Impact activities. Formal assessment revealed that the Asteroid Impact curricula successfully improved science content knowledge more so than traditional curricula. Assessment also revealed a significant increase in student attitudes towards science.

If you are interested in implementing the Asteroid Impact or other Adventure Engineering curricular units, visit the curricula page to learn more.