The competition required students to design and build simple rockets that were launched with compressed air from an air compressor. One goal for students was to create a rocket that would stay in the air the longest when launched vertically. Another goal was for the students to accurately predict the distance their rocket would travel under a given set of conditions.
The engineering connections here are obvious. Students worked within given constraints to optimize a solution using a design, build, test, revise process. That's both a disciplinary core idea and one of the practices of science and engineering. But the 3-dimensional learning goes deeper than that.
The 3-d learning started with a guiding question: "How can I design the best rocket for this competition?" This question served as the focus of everything my rocket team did prior to today's competition.
Based on this question, students began to investigate, design, and test. During this process, they worked with disciplinary core ideas related to PS2: Motion and Stability. While I may not have taken time to explicitly teach content related to this DCI, students experienced it through their investigations.
into this "content," students interjected several of the science and engineering practices. They defined problems, analyzed data, designed solutions, used mathematical thinking, and even argued from evidence. The analysis of data and mathematical thinking occurred as students tested their rockets repeatedly under different launch conditions to allow them to best predict their rocket's launch distance. They argued from evidence within their teams as they negotiated how to best modify their rockets to improve their designs.
The 3-d learning even included some of those tricky crosscutting concepts. Students examined cause and effect and patterns when they looked for performance changes based on design changes. They also were able to look at structure and function as it relates to aerodynamics and rocket design.
All of this was almost "accidental' in that I didn't set out with the intention of addressing any of those aspects of the NGSS. I just set out to help some students have fun and to give them the opportunity to participate in a science competition.
The question, then, is how can we create this kind of 3-dimensional learning on purpose in our classrooms. I think the first step is finding good guiding questions--questions that are important to the students. If we don't have these questions in place, then there is nothing to unify the 3 dimensions of the NGSS. If our questions are good enough, and interesting enough for our students, connections to all 3 dimensions will be easy.