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Public Works for Public Learning: A Case Study

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

New Approaches and Applications to Enhance Technological Literacy - Part II

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1009.1 - 23.1009.15



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Paper Authors


Thalia Anagnos San Jose State University

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Thalia Anagnos is a professor in the General Engineering Department at San Jose State University where she has taught since 1984. Her research interests are in structural engineering, earthquake loss estimation and risk analysis, engineering education, and informal education. On this project she is helping to develop materials aimed at K-12 that complement the exhibits.

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Becky Carroll Inverness Research, Inc.

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Becky Carroll has worked for Inverness Research since 1990. Her work has involved studies of K-12 mathematics and science education, as well as studies of exhibition and program development in the informal science field. In the informal field, her areas of interest include studies of collaboratives and networks, programs for youth, exhibition development projects, and professional development for museum professionals. In the formal field, she has participated in studies of mathematics and science program improvements and teacher professional development. Past and current projects in the informal domain include studies of the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE); the TEAMS collaborative; Community Science Workshops; and the Precollege Science Collaborative and ITEST grant programs at the American Museum of Natural History; exhibit development projects at the Golden Gate Bridge, the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science and the Exploratorium; as well as the TexNET and Playful Invention and Exploration networks. On the formal side, projects include the Rapid City Math Science Partnership, the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership, the Appalachian Math Science Partnership, the Wyoming Middle School Mathematics Initiative, the Gilbert Systemic Science Plan (LSC), and the Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative.

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Shannon Weiss David Heil & Associates, Inc.

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Shannon Weiss specializes in the design and implementation of evaluation and market research projects related to DHA's core areas of emphasis in science, engineering, health, and environmental education; and institutional strategic and business planning. Her work serves a range of academic institutions, government agencies, corporations and non-profit enterprises including projects funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Prior to joining DHA, Shannon designed and conducted evaluations for Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and the Pacific Science Center. Shannon received a BA in Art History from the University of Evansville in Evansville, IN; an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA; and was a member of the initial cohort of the University of Washington's IMLS funded New Directions in Audience Research Program.

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David R. Heil David Heil & Associates, Inc.

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David Heil, President of David Heil & Associates, Inc., (DHA) is well known as an innovative educator, author, and host of the Emmy-Award winning PBS science series, Newton’s Apple. Active in promoting public understanding of science for over 30 years, he is a frequent conference and workshop presenter on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and his firm provides research and evaluation services for a broad range of government, corporate, non-profit and university clients. David is a co-author of Family Engineering: An Activity and Event Planning Guide, and serves as a member-at-large on the Executive Committee of ASEE’s K-12 Division.

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Public Works for Public Learning: A Case StudyLarge scale and small scale public works projects are important in the smooth operation of everycommunity, yet a majority of the population has little awareness of how these projects work andwhat their functions are. Few non-engineers understand the engineering challenges of deliveringclean water, disposing of our sewage, or changing a traditional intersection into a round-about, aproject that seems quite simple on the surface.A consortium of public works engineers, science museums, faculty, and exhibit evaluators wereawarded a grant by the National Science Foundation to build an outdoor museum next to a largesuspension bridge. The exhibits explain concepts such as forces in the main cables andsuspenders, the function of the towers and the anchorages, aerodynamics of the bridge deck,torsional resistance of the bridge deck, and bridge vibration, to name a few. A 1:75 scale replicaof the bridge provides an opportunity for people to see all of the elements of the bridge close up,and to see the structural elements inside the towers. Many of the exhibits are hands-on. Forexample, one exhibit that describes the trade-offs between tower height and main cabledimension, displays three suspension bridges side by side with towers of different heights(resulting in catenaries with different sags). By pulling on the cables of each model the visitorcan “feel” that the shorter tower results in higher tension forces. The exhibits are complementedby web content (in multiple languages) so that visiting school groups and the general public canexplore the topics in more detail after their visit. Formative assessment was used throughout theexhibit development to incorporate public feedback into the exhibit design. Summativeassessment is ongoing.As part of the dissemination plan for this project, a conference on public works for publiclearning brought together representatives from both large scale and small scale public worksprojects from around the world to share their successes in using these projects for raising publicawareness. Strategies ranged from teaming with local Arts Councils to host events at publicworks sites, to more traditional visitors center displays and tours.This paper will provide a case study of the outdoor bridge exhibit and summarize key lessonslearned from developing the exhibit and from the conference.

Anagnos, T., & Carroll, B., & Weiss, S., & Heil, D. R. (2013, June), Public Works for Public Learning: A Case Study Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22394

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