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Engineering to the Rescue! Using Engineering to Teach Fifth Grade Physical Science (Curriculum Exchange)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Curriculum Exchange

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.647.1 - 26.647.2



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Paper Authors


Aran W Glancy University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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Aran W. Glancy is a Ph.D. candidate in STEM Education with a focus on mathematics education at the University of Minnesota. Aran is currently working on supporting elementary and middle school teachers in integrating science and mathematics through engineering design. Additionally, he is investigating modeling within K-12 mathematics classrooms, and is also interested in enhancing mathematics education through the integration of science, engineering, and computer programming.

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Tom Cozzolino

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Susan Margaret Spector

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Engineering to the Rescue! Using Engineering to Teach Fifth Grade Physical Science (Curriculum Exchange)Local police and fire departments need to be prepared for a variety of disasters. Floods can leaveindividuals stranded, campers can get lost in the woods, and forest fires pose a threat to peopleand property. To combat these events, police and firefighters need the proper equipment tohandle the conditions. In this fifth grade physical science unit, students help design a rescuevehicle that can speed up, slow down, and turn on a variety of surfaces. In doing so they learnnot only about force and motion, data analysis and measurement, and engineering design, butalso about how engineers can serve the community.This unit was created as part of the Engineering to Transform the Education of Analysis,Measurement, & Science (EngrTEAMS) project, which is an engineering, design-based approachto teacher professional development that has 50 teachers per year designing curricular units forscience topic areas related to the Next Generation Science Standards. The project includessummer professional development and curriculum writing workshops, paired with coaching, toallow teams of teachers to design engineering curricular units focused on science concepts,meaningful data analysis, and measurement. Each unit goes through an extensive design researchcycle to ensure its quality and is published in an online format.The Engineering to the Rescue! unit places fifth grade students in the role of engineers who havebeen contacted by the local fire department to design a rescue vehicle that can speed up, slowdown, and turn on paved roads, on dirt or grass, and on water. The unit integrates data analysisand measurement with fifth grade standards concerning friction and how forces (includingfriction) cause changes in motion. After being introduced to the challenge, students investigatethe way forces change the motion of an object. In the first activity, students collect data on theforce of friction, and use that data to draw conclusion about the friction between differentmaterials. They also use this to make predictions about the force they expect to see in differentsituations. Additional activities have students building balloon-powered, tabletop hovercraftsand rubber band powered cars to learn how to change the speed of a vehicle. Students also learnhow to use forces to cause objects to turn or change direction in investigations involving bowlingballs and propellers. The unit culminates with students applying what they have learned aboutforce and motion as they build prototype rescue vehicles to share with the local fire department.Students’ vehicles must go two different speeds (fast and slow), need to be able to stop beforehitting a barrier, and need to be able to turn around a corner. After testing their designs, studentsredesign their vehicles, before ultimately presenting their final plans to the fire department.

Glancy, A. W., & Cozzolino, T., & Spector, S. M. (2015, June), Engineering to the Rescue! Using Engineering to Teach Fifth Grade Physical Science (Curriculum Exchange) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23985

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