Engineering and Science

What came first: Newton's laws and the mathematics of force vectors, or the building of cathedrals, aqueducts, and bridges? Throughout history, the learning of science has been interwoven with engineering, the practical needs to solve human problems. The value of science is realized through the impacts of engineering on economics and human standards of living.

We believe student learning of science benefits from including more engineering approaches in how we teach science. Vectors, for example, are a topic taught in all physics classes. In the engineering approach, students are given the ErgoBot and the goal of navigating a prescribed maze. The students are challenged by limiting them to only six vector moves with the ErgoBot. They learn about vectors by using them to solve a real problem. This is how engineering helps teach science. The engineering approach uses real, practical problems to supplement paper-and-pencil, or theoretical problems.

The Design Cycle

In the real world, solutions are rarely correct the first time. No one expects them to be, either, and this is quite a shock for students trying to use their knowledge of science. The design cycle is a process by which an initial idea or concept is prototyped, tested, evaluated, and refined—getting better with each iteration. Without understanding this cycle, many students cannot start because they can't immediately see how to get a solution. We need to teach students that it is OK to be wrong; you have to start somewhere, even if you cannot yet see how you will finish. Even the best scientists and engineers constantly refine and change their ideas or inventions as they learn more through the design cycle.

Design Projects

Ergopedia's curriculum includes optional design projects in which students apply science to create technology. Student teams identify real physics constraints, construct prototypes to make observations and measurements, and then use science to refine their design. The design problems become progressively more challenging throughout the year. An example from Essential Physics is a project to design a speaker using a coil of wire, magnet, and cardboard disk. The LabVIEW software and compatible instrumentation allows students to excite the speaker with different frequencies and then use a commercial microphone to measure the response. Students modify design parameters—such as mass, diaphragm size, and magnet location—in order to improve the performance.

Essential Physics

A unique feature of Essential Physics is the tight integration of engineering applications and activities through the curriculum, such as the physics behind the lift created by the airfoil design of an airplane's wings.  The physics curriculum has been designed to incorporate all the STEM disciplines.

Students gain hands-on experience in engineering through optional design projects offered as an extension of the core investigations.  Design projects use simple equipment to apply physics to create a real-world solution to a design problem, such as creating an effective speaker.  Students identify real physics constraints, prototype their device, make measurements or observations, and refine their design to improve the performance.

Picture Picture Picture

Building codes and architecture are engineering applications of physical principles.

Properties of materials and alloys are important for understanding their engineering applications.

The piston engine is an engineering marvel that illustrates many physical principles in one machine.

Throughout the book students learn about engineering applications of physics in modern society:

  • Buildings and structures, such as the stability of architectural designs and building codes;

  • Materials science, such as the properties of metals, alloys, carbon fibers, and graphene; and

  • Nuclear engineering, such as the design of a nuclear power plant.