How can we engage students in STEM and address areas of the Victorian curriculum?
The following information is intended to help teachers to justify (if this is needed) why involving interested students in the model solar vehicle challenge can assist in addressing several curriculum areas. As a former primary teacher my class began with solar boats as this was the easiest option.
Model solar boats are an engaging and authentic way to address several curriculum areas including those from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). We are going to give you a brief overview of how this can be done with year 5/6 students, but the boat competition can involve students of all year levels, primary and secondary and has two levels: junior and advanced.
We begin with a Design brief (see the Victorian Curriculum: Design and Technologies), in this case it comprises the regulations for the competition. (Note the size restrictions.) The technologies context is that of engineering principles and systems which at the primary level addresses the Engineering component of STEM and for year 5/6 students they ‘Investigate how forces or electrical energy can control movement, sound or light in a designed product or system (VCDSTC034)’
The first sub-strand of the Creating designed solutions strand is that of investigating. Where your students need to understand the design brief and where an investigation into the science involved will occur, preferably through hands on activities. The links to the science curriculum for years 5/6 are ‘ Energy from a variety of sources can be used to generate electricity; electric circuits enable this energy to be transferred to another place and then to be transformed into another form of energy (VCSSU081)’ Additional information about how photovoltaic cells work can be found in the links below.
The Generating (Designing) sub-strand is when your students begin the designing of their boats, some may want to communicate their ideas through two dimensional design drawings while others may want to create a three dimensional representation or prototype or use an appropriate Computer Aided Design (CAD) program.
The Producing sub-strand is where your students begin making their boats and then testing them, the Evaluating sub-strand. It is during the evaluation that further aspects of mathematics come in as they make measurements relating to performance. This could be trying different propeller sizes and ways of wiring their cells in series or parallel. (Previous groups of students have used the following, ‘series when sunny and parallel when overcast to help them make decisions.) This testing (evaluation) is very important and demonstrates the iterative nature of the technology/engineering process as students find solutions to problems identified. Finally, the poster or video provides further opportunities to address another curriculum area, that of English. Please refer to the regulations for what needs to be communicated.
As someone who has been involved in the competition for many years I recommend the competition to everyone. It is very rewarding to see where your students can go to through their involvement.