For 5 days, students in 7th grade science have been designing, building, and testing paper roller coasters to develop and apply their knowledge of potential and kinetic energy. This project has been incredibly engaging for all of the 7th graders.
As the building days stretched beyond what we had originally allotted, I reverted to my pre-NGSS days, worrying about how much content bang we were getting for the time we were investing. I was wondering if we could really afford to spend any more time on teaching two small pieces of content. How could we justify spending all of this time for just those two ideas: kinetic energy and potential energy.
However, as I reflected on the project with the NGSS in mind, I realized that we were doing much more than just applying our knowledge of kinetic and potential energy. We were, in fact, getting a lot of bang for our buck. Students were working not only with content, but also with science and engineering practices and the engineering design cycle. In the box on the left, you can see some of the science and engineering practices included in this project.
Beyond that, students experienced the integration of science and engineering. They used science to solve an engineering problem. In designing the roller coaster, they had to work within certain constraints (size, materials, time, etc.) and with given criteria for success (size, required components, etc.). They used the engineering design process throughout the project.
Once I realized all of the NGSS components that were contained in the project, I felt much more comfortable about the time we spent on it. With NGSS, process is as important for students to learn/experience as traditional "content" is.
Practices Used in this Activity