We must recognize that we do not have a work force capable of using science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Therefore, the emphasis of my curriculum unit is on mathematics and my teaching method is to look at problem solving from an engineering viewpoint in the classroom. The focus on engineering has led me to choose civil engineering and bridge design to bring out the concepts of mathematics. However, students would not be expected to design a bridge per se but to examine the process of designing a bridge. They would look at exercises using mathematical concepts as triangles or parabolas. They would examine an aspect of bridge design for proportions and symmetry. Or they may examine a failed bridge that was due to mathematical design flaws or perhaps discover it was due to materials. They may also attempt to design their own bridge using bridge design software.
The goal of this approach is to stimulate interest in our young people which in turn would translate into a skillful work force who would have demands for high level jobs that include designing and building models, asking questions to solve a problem, analyzing and interpreting data, finding solutions, and drawing conclusions. It would provide an opportunity for students who can explore their ideas, work them out, troubleshoot problems, and feel successful no matter the outcome.
The objective for the classroom is to create an environment where students will take complete control of their projects and develop confidence to make their own decisions. This will be accomplished by the student looking at the project and making decisions about tasks that they will work on or are interested in. They may begin with their desires but through trial and error will settle on what interests them most or what they can do based on their skill set. The environment should be relaxed, busy, and engaging.
Students would work in teams. Working in teams will enable the student to decide who will accomplish which task. It will teach each student about taking ownership of a task and realize the dependence of team members on completion of it. In this process a leader should emerge who will guide direction and focus.
Teams would consist of four members and can be selected randomly or by using a behavioral tendency models such as DISC
. DISC categorizes individuals into four behavioral tendencies D-individuals who like to direct, Iindividuals who like to influence, S-individuals who like to serve, and C-individuals who like to comply with high standards. This or other behavior models would help individuals to regulate theirs and others strengths and weaknesses to the advantage of the team and the completion of the project by anticipating potential problems and delegating tasks to the right person. However, if a behavioral model is not available then knowing your students well would be an advantage. Students demonstrate daily proficiency in thinking, organizing, working with their hands, writing, or technology. It is easy to select a team of students that possess all the skills needed to perform an activity proficiently as a team.
Students would also decide on what area of development they would like to concentrate on. Would they prefer the design process to develop a model, the assembly process to put things together and test them, or research? And, they would be required to hypothesize on some aspect of the project to test or develop and collect data to analyze. This approach will show how engineering combines the use of science, technology, and mathematics.
Activities to support the goal would be field trips, constructing models, and using software to create designs.
Background information on bridges would be given to students for projects or activities proposed below.