Teachers interview scientists: The heart of engineering

With the release of the Battelle LDC Science Collection, we’ve pulled together some of the teachers and scientists behind the project. For our final interview, here’s Claire Hampel from Metro Early College Middle School and David Chase from Battelle to tell you more about their work together.Claire HampelClaire: Hi! My name is Claire Hampel and I’m a middle school science and English teacher at the Metro School. I’m originally from Dayton, Ohio where I went to the University of Dayton for Education. I love scrapbooking, shopping with friends and traveling just about anywhere!

David ChaseDavid: I am a mechanical engineer who has worked at Battelle for over 10 years. I have worked on a variety of government and commercial client projects developing customized hardware spanning from the ocean, to land, to air and space.

You worked together to create a lesson around Design. Can you give a short overview of “Squirmy Science” covers?
Claire: The Squirmy Science module, which addresses life science standards, is for middle school students who are new to the design process. The class is taught within the context of a STEM school that has an eight-week science course. This eight-week course focuses on ecology and biology concepts including food chains, ecosystems, limiting factors, and characteristics of living things. The goals of this module are:

  • A clear understanding of the design process basics
  • Working as a team to develop a model
  • Considering the limitations to determine the best model
  • Doing research to inform a design concept
  • Testing a model to determine success
  • Writing a full report of design with multiple design components
  • A full understanding of ecosystems, food chains, and mealworms

David, how would students use these skills in an engineering setting?
David: Working as a team is very important as almost all projects I have worked on are multi-discipline teams (ranging from electrical engineers, software engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, material scientist to microbiologist). The module includes writing a full report on the design. Report writing is crucial to project success. It’s also complex. In a report, each subject matter expert has to explain to the team (and the client) what they did and how their results feed into the overall design.

Before Claire designed the classroom experience, you both met to outline some basics. Can you share some of your questions and answers?

Claire:  What are the major skills my students need to know?

David: Besides the core skills of science, math and writing skills, the best tool in a design engineer’s kit is their judgment. An engineer is paid to solve problems. Developing the knowledge from past projects/experiences to know what to pay attention to and what can be ignored is crucial. Every project is limited on either time or schedule. A good design engineer must really narrow down the possibilities of potential problems and focus their resources on addressing the most important ones. This skill set only comes from working on projects and learning from experienced engineers.

Claire: How do science and writing play into your job?

David: Engineering, at its very core, is the application of science to solving problems. Most students go into engineering because they like science and math. However, writing is equally important. At the end of the day you have to communicate to people what you did and how you fixed the problem you were hired to solve. This communications always occurs in a written report, along with a presentation of some nature.

Claire, David, and Claire’s students on the Squirmy Science lesson
YouTube video

Now that you’ve seen this module in class, what follow-up questions do you have?

Claire: What aspects of the Squirmy Science Module do you think were the best practice for my students who will be future engineers?

David: I am really impressed with how the module was structured to reinforce balancing, cost, schedule and technical requirements. From reviewing the reports the students seemed to understand that they were limited in what they could do based on their costs and schedule constraints. This is great! The module helps the students, at a young age, start to look at the problems from an overall approach where they must navigate competing requirements.

Any advice for other teachers who will go on to use this resource?

David: Engineers are essentially inventors that apply science and math to solving real world problems. This is what makes engineering fun! It is difficult as well but that’s what engineers get paid to do: Solve difficult problems within a time and money constrained environment. The fun comes from using your imagination with your technical skills. Really focus your students on understanding that you never get anything for free. Every choice is a balance between technical requirements, cost and schedule. Developing this skillset is at the heart of being an engineer.

Claire: Planning using backwards design is a key to being successful with LDC modules. Think about what you want to achieve and go from there with the time you have. Step outside of your comfort zone and just give it a try!

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