DESIGNS Information Page
Project DESIGNS (Doable Engineering Science Investigations Geared for Non-science Students), funded by National Science Foundation grant ESI-9452767, developed design-based activity modules for use in physical science and technology education courses in grades 5–9. The project's six topics are: batteries (chemistry), bridges (static forces), electromagnets (electricity and magnetism), gravity cars (potential and kinetic energy), solar houses (energy transfer), and windmills (force, work, power, torque). Sixteen teachers helped project staff to develop and pilot the curriculum from 1995 through 1998. A second three-year NSF grant, ESI-9730469, is developing a full-year middle school (grades 7–9) physical science course based on the modules.
Project pedagogy was derived from the constructivist model of learning and takes into account students' personal theories. The project's goal was to open science concepts to students through activities involving the design, construction, and optimization of simple devices.
Students begin by making a prototype device using a specific design, the whole linked to some real-world scenario. Project staff and teachers work to ensure that the prototype design will work — albeit crudely — regardless of student skill or experience. Students are then challenged to improve the device in some way, such as by increasing its speed or reducing the cost of its production, while working under constraints such as size, weight, or budget. Design changes are incremental, with a test of the device after each time a variable is changed and an overall open-ended iterative process for design modification. Check out the Challenge Criteria to find out how DESIGNS helps students access the pertinent scientific concepts.
The six modules are available commercially from Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company under the title Challenges in Physical Science. All DESIGNS materials comply with the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
For more information, please contact: Kendall/Hunt, 1-800-542-6657
DESIGNS Project Page