Great example, Jon. I look your approach of showcasing the different layers of engineering involved in common everyday products. It's easy to look at a water bottle and say, no biggie, it's just a simple, plain old water bottle. When you look at the end product through the lens of all the other factors involved, it's a great lesson in full lifecycle of engineering.
Thanks, Beth. Earlier this week I visited the Academy for Math, Engineering, and Science (AMES) in Murray, UT along with Brian Fuller of EE Times. What an interesting place. We met with students who asked a lot of insightful questions about the Chevy Volt Brian and his son had driven to Utah from San Francisco. The students also got to look at the insides of the Volt after Brian brove it into the automotive-shop area of a co-located high school. We must continue to offer young people specialized educational opportunities such as those at the AMES and similar charter and magnet schools. And we need to encourage technical practitioners to consider teaching as a career. Even mentors and volunteers can make a big difference.
I agree. I also think teaching in a hands-on way as opposed to rote book learning is critical for fostering a curiously and a passion for STEM careers. Seeing the insides of the Volt and coupling that with a lesson in the engineering struggles around commerically-viable EV technology goes a lot further with a student that reading some dry case study online or in a text book.
The kids were surprised to see the shape of the battery used in the Volt because it looks like a large "T" with a slot in the middle. I guess they thought the battery's shape would look more rectangular. We explained the battery probably had to accommodate structural parts of the vehicle and also leave enough space in the "trunk" for groceries, luggage, and so on. Thus the "different" shape. The students hadn't thought about that.
Thanks for that fantastic example, Jon! I teach technical management to undergraduate students and when they arrive as eager high school graduates I have found they bring along three (3) primary misunderstandings. This situation was observed by 19th century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw when he wrote, "The trouble with the world ain't ignorance, it's just that people know so much that isn't so."
(1) All of the answers exist. Teachers prevent students from searching for the answers during exams to make sure students have learned the material.
(2) Different subjects are not related. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are separate subjects and they are completely different from topics like Social Studies, Music, and Phys Ed.
(3) Working with others is cheating. Cooperation and teamwork are for the playing field. Academics is a solo sport and only the super-smart kids are good at every position; and I'm not one of those.
It takes several weeks to de-program the students using real-world case studies such as your Water Bottle to convince them that these three facts aren't so. Only after these impediments are removed can we get to the task of training a competent, confident team member who is eager to define current problems, design effective solutions, and work collaboratively with other systems experts with the goal of making things "better."
Explaining science and engineering is an art in itself. I am reminded of a scene in the movie, "The China Syndrome," in which Jack Lemmon's character (a nuclear engineer) tries unsuccessfully to explain how a nuclear power plant works to a TV reporter. Sometimes, it's hard to pare all that knowledge down to a simple, coherent statement. Hat's off to you, Jon, for using such a visually understandable example.
Reading your terrific summary of how so many inter-related technical disciplines are required for "everyday things" was very satisfying.Your water bottle example takes the mundane and exemplifies it into a blossoming bouquet of an entire curriculum. Bravo.And to Professor Bill Weaver'scomments about re-training the mis-informed, also I say "Amen".I have long pondered sadly, the advancement of our collective knowledge, and realized the staggering percentage of truths that are simply passed over as "givens" by so many.Jon, you expanded somewhat on the bottle-cap, but being a plastics and molding guy myself, I have to add the magic of the bottle itself.I remember being quizzed by one of my mentors about 30 years ago, as he held a solid clear plastic molded cylinder , about 1" in diameter, and about 3" long, with molded threads and a wide flange at one end, and he asked if knew what it was. He then launched into a lesson similar to what you just finished, explaining the multiple steps in producing blow-molded bottles from pre-cast slugs.Inspiring discussions like this, to eager young minds, are a natural fuel for future innovations.
William, glad to see your comments. I think your "three things" are worth posting for all incoming freshman - not just the engineers. I've been fortunate to teach science in elementary schools for a number of years and was pleased to see that at that level, the kids have not yet learned to compartmentalize their thinking quite as you've described it - but I can see that they are starting to move in that direction. It would be nice if we had a measure for our students not just on their academics, but their "social and organization functioning" as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
I'm right with you. My wife is a kindergarten teacher at the same small K-12 charter school that both of my children matriculated through, so I socialize with a great many of the faculty. Kudos to you for teaching science in elementary school -- what a great time to capture some of that "gee-whiz" enthusiasm for science and math. I know that the science curriculum is taught by great teachers using curriculum that emphasizes project-based learning and collaboration in the sciences. Perhaps it is the other subjects that treat science and math as separate, for at least at our school the connectedness is most definitely emphasized.
I guess it could be a systemic problem within the education process or perhaps sometime through that magical transformative process we call puberty our young folks learn how to differentiate socially and that spills over into the classroom. I'm painting with a broad brush, but many of my incoming college freshmen truly believe there is an "App for Everything" and having a high wage allows one to purchase solutions to any problem. It really does take a while to convince them of the wide array of opportunities available to them beyond working a register. Maybe as high-school students with limited exposure to industry they think retail is just about all there is. After introducing them to the playing field, they can begin to discover their talent and passion for various positions...
Jim, There is signiifcant science and engineering behind the design and filling of the bottle, and you are correct that there is a lot of engineering behind the manufacturing of the cap and the bottle. Sometimes the final produced parts are small compared to the massive machines required to produce them. Sidel PET bottle machines produce enough bottles in an hour to bury you and require months / years to design and manufacture. The machinery portion of the final product is a forgotten item that employs thousands of workers around the country.
A middle school team from Rochester, Mich., has again nabbed the grand prize in the annual international Future City Competition, which drew students from 37 regions of the United States, as well as from England and China.
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