One of the great things about the senior science course I teach is that the state curriculum standards are primarily science process standards. Understand problem solving methods, create a hypothesis, design an investigation, perform the investigation, and communicate the results. Intertwined are skills such as data analysis, research, and error analysis. One of the most difficult things about the class is that it is so wide open. This could actually describe any course where students are trying, failing, trying again and communicating their efforts.
In past years I have incorporated art, comics, building, music and engineering into the applied physics class. The results have always varied from the bare minimum to knock-your-socks-off amazing. This year the class has been focused on the Eagle Squadron project where they research, select, propose, build and fly a quad copter. We are now at the ready to purchase stage of the project and hope to have it soon for building and flying. Yes, this is project-based learning. No, I did not have the luxury of creating a detailed plan before starting. It has been a little bumpy, but the results of the experience are starting to show in the students.
The students presented a proposal to the class on their chosen quad copter. The two best from each class presented to a Shark Tank panel of administrators, including our superintendent, to show they could do this project and how it would benefit the school and their education. They researched laws and safety issues to create a presentation for our risk management director who responded appreciatively to our attention to the real-world issue. Now they are setting up flight training, building plans, communication plans as well as an obstacle course to conquer when it is all said and done. All of these have been driven by the project needs as well as what the students need to learn to be successful.
I could have given concrete rules for each of the steps, but the reality is if I give a minimum expectation and guide the students they usually arrive at something so much better than I could have described. This also gives the interested and gifted students room to do their thing while others still participate and succeed during times when the work is not to their personal liking.
Some days take some pushing to get through the work, they so want to get the quad copter in a build. Of course if no one gives me a list of tools, building is going to be a little tough. We have embarked on a journey that I am not the expert, I can’t even pretend. I can guide, I can anticipate needs so they don’t get frustrated and we can all celebrate together when the copters arrive and we build and fly them. Wish us luck!