Monday, April 16, 2012

Science or Engineering?

Last week I posted a blog entry about Dr. Ioannis Miauilis, the Director of the Boston Museum of Science and Engineering. Like Dr. Miauilis I have always believed that the study of the natural world is not enough to fulfill the "science" component of the elementary school curriculum. To ignore design technology (engineering) would be like teaching children to read without talking about literature, or teaching children to compute without teaching them how to problem solve.

To help my students differentiate between science and engineering
(design technology) we talk about the origin of the questions we ask, the sources of the inquiry. In science the questions arise out of the natural world; what is magnetism? how does it work? what are the five senses? what is the water cycle? In design technology, or engineering, the questions arise out of how we use our scientific knowledge to solve human problems. How do we use magnetism to enhance our lives? How do we use our knowledge of the water cycle to grow better crops.

In the science part of class today my students explored water through the concept of drops of water. In the engineering or design technology part of the class they used a copy of the local newspaper to support a small washer as high as they could above the tables.

An application that brings the two together in a unified way is to explore the motion of a pendulum in terms of what causes it to swing faster or slower and then design a pendulum clock that swings once every second.

The design technology part of the science of magnetism can be exemplified with  Mag Lev trains or cow magnets. (My students would not believe there was such a thing, even though I was holding one, until I showed them one on a website).

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