June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Pre-College Engineering Education
K-12 STEM education literature reveals that conventional and traditional math, science, and computer programming classes often fail to effectively “do the ‘E’ in STEM”. New grade-level-appropriate curricula are required to address this omission. This paper presents and evaluates a model-rocket-based curriculum implemented in a stand-alone STEM course required for all 9th and 10th graders at a private high school. The project is unique because it melds the following five attributes into an open-ended, hands-on, high-school-level engineering design-and-build project: 1) Design-Build-Test pedagogy; 2) the engineering design process; 3) comprehensive technical coverage of rocket systems; 4) the seven axes of engineering practice; and 5) enabling computer simulations and micro-sensor technology for engineering design and analysis. This novel curriculum is evaluated using an indirect post-activity survey that probes students’ attitudes about STEM fields and self-perceived skills and abilities.
For the project, all students were given identical Estes LoadStar II model kits, commercially available in Educator Bulk Packs. The students’ challenge, framed as a class competition, was to modify the rocket’s design to maximize flight altitude with an Estes C6-5 motor. The instructor first guided students through creating functional digital renderings of the unmodified rocket kit using Rocket Simulator from Apogee Components. Virtual launches of simulated rockets corroborated by data from real launches established an altitude baseline. Students then brainstormed and explored a variety of design modifications using the modeling software to evaluate potential rocket altitude impacts of each change. With inexpensive hand tools available in the STEM classroom, students modified their rocket kits to match the designs they developed in the software. Student-designed and -built rockets were then launched. Flight altitudes were measured directly using an onboard JollyLogic AltimeterThree barometric altimeter carried aloft in the rocket payload section. In every class section, student-customized rockets outperformed the unmodified baseline vehicle.
At the class’s conclusion, 79 students (out of 107 enrolled) completed a computerized anonymous indirect survey to self-assess their attitudes about the course specifically and engineering in general as a result of the rocket project. Results were lackluster compared to expectations based on similar s novel classroom lesson pedagogical studies previously conducted. Only 54.4% of students reported increased interest in the class over the semester. 62.0% reported improved understanding of the rocket design process. 57.0% reported being able to see interconnections between science, math, engineering, and technology as a result of the course. Despite these disappointing results, anecdotal observation suggested student participants were engaging in effective engineering thinking throughout the project. Reasons explaining middling survey results and discussion of the project’s next steps to improve student responses are described.
Traum, M. J., & Karackattu, S. L. (2019, June), 'It’s Nothing Like October Sky!': Spurring 9th and 10th Graders to Think Like Engineers via Rockets Custom-Designed for Maximum Altitude Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31918
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