What’s in This Unit?
When natural disasters strike, it can be difficult to reach the affected areas since roads may be blocked or destroyed. Supplies can be dropped from aircraft, but this has its own challenges. The Force and Motion Engineering Internship allows students to apply knowledge that they’ve learned about forces and collisions to an authentic problem—designing an emergency supply drop pod. The unit assumes that students know about gravity, a force that causes objects to fall to the earth. Through readings and a hands-on model, students learn that mass of the object does not affect its velocity at impact, but does affect the amount of impact force the object experiences when it hits the ground. The velocity of a falling object can be reduced by adding air resistance, which will result in lower impact force. The materials from which the object is made can extend the amount of time over which the collision occurs, which also reduces the impact force. Reading about these topics, along with an exploration of the properties of various physical materials, helps students apply their understanding of forces and motion to a fictional but realistic problem. Students work as mechanical engineering interns at Futura Engineering to design a supply pod that will deliver humanitarian aid packages to people in disaster-stricken locations. Specifically, they learn about engineering practices and deepen their understanding about collision forces. They explore how to manipulate mass and falling speed in the design process, using the SupplyDrop Design Tool to run iterative tests and collect data. They then focus on data analysis, noting the structure and function of different design features, in order to design a pod that survives the impact of colliding with the ground. Students strive to meet the design criteria: minimizing cargo damage, maximizing shell condition, and keeping costs low. By the end of the unit, students are able to explain the features, trade-offs and science behind their optimal design in a written proposal. This 10-day immersive Engineering Internship is intended to follow the Amplify Science Force and Motion unit.
Engineering Internships engage students by immersing them in the type of work that real engineers do. They situate learning in the context of doing, helping students engage with science ideas and engineering practices. While all Amplify Science middle school units put students in a role and provide them with a problem to solve, the Engineering Internships provide a more immersive environment by leveraging digital technologies to simulate a real workplace. Futura Engineering, the company for whom students serve as engineering interns, has a logo, a CEO, and project directors. Students receive work direction via Daily Messages, and receive feedback on their work from the Futura mechanical engineering project director. Students find the context to be highly motivating. Unlike other engineering projects and curricula, students participate in an experience that is designed to simulate the best features of an actual internship, all while learning how to think like engineers in the context of doing engineering work.
The Engineering Internships are also designed to provide students with an opportunity to apply a concept they’ve learned to solve a problem. Application situations like these enable students to see how information they’ve learned is useful, and offer the chance to deepen their understanding of that information. In addition, an application situation provides a way to assess students’ grasp of the concept being applied. We chose the context of supply pod design because it provides an opportunity for students to apply what they learned in the Force and Motion unit as they consider a humanitarian aid delivery system. Engaging students in solution-oriented thinking around a serious issue helps them understand that concepts learned in physics are highly relevant in creating inventive solutions for real-world challenges.
In the first phase—the Research phase—interns are introduced to the Engineering Internship during which they learn about the emergency supply delivery project and concepts they need to design and test pods. Their designs should address three criteria: minimizing cargo damage to ensure the safety of the cargo, maximizing the shell condition so that the pod can be used for shelter, and keeping pod costs low so that more pods can be built and dropped to help as many people in need as possible. In the multimodal Research phase, students review information from the Force and Motion unit and work to understand more about the concepts of force, motion, and impact force. Additionally, they learn how to manipulate objects’ mass, velocity, and duration of experienced collision as ways to reduce impact force. Students perform a hands-on application of these concepts by designing and testing a pod for an egg drop. They also read detailed supporting articles in the Futura Mechanical Engineer’s Dossier, and work with the digital Design Tool—SupplyDrop—to conduct iterative tests and better understand how each pod material and structure functions to affect the outcomes.
In the second phase—the Design phase—interns use the SupplyDrop Design Tool as a part of The Design Cycle. SupplyDrop is a digital model that allows students to plan pods, build and test them, analyze the results, and then plan another iteration of tests. Interns learn the value of iterative tests, how to balance trade-offs, and how to analyze the results in order to inform their next decisions. Students submit their optimal pod design to the project director for feedback. They then have a chance to refine these designs in order to create an optimal design that appropriately addresses all the project criteria.
In the third and final phase—the Proposal phase—students gather evidence to support their optimal design and write their Final Proposals, using scientific communication skills to present and support their claim of the optimal solution. Students first focus on the types of evidence for the design decisions that helped them address each criterion. Students submit an outline of the Design Decisions section of the proposal to their project director for feedback. They use the feedback letter, Proposal Rubric, review of the Dossier, and peer discussion to improve the body of their proposals so it is clear how and why each decision led to the proposed optimal design. Students complete the proposal by adding an introduction and conclusion, which allows them to summarize the project and analyze the trade-offs of the proposed solution.
The unit concludes with an intern exit survey, during which students reflect on what they’ve learned as interns about engineering practices, science content, and attitudes toward science and engineering. The final activity asks students to extend their understanding of engineering design by defining new problems that involve understanding force, motion and collisions.