Microelectronics & Lemon’s Lab – A place to Imagine, Inquire, and Innovate!
The theme for science lab this year has been “Microelectronics in the Lab”. This theme is evident in several projects, originally planned at the Tuskegee University Microelectronics Lab, under Dr. Korivi, and executed at Greenville Early College (GEC) with my sixth-graders in Greenville, SC. Grow lights, Little Bits, and Weather Tools were all designed with microelectronics components intended to make life easier and safer in class during our experiments. This theme has been infused in the projects this year! Here’s more…
We launched the Smarter House Project, in which kids were excited to share the results of their home electrical surveys as an entry event. They discovered how series and parallel circuits work using trial and error computer simulations, followed by more virtual simulations on making connections between different forms of energy to generate power: wind, water, corn (ethanol plants), solar, and nuclear. Guest-speakers, from the Oconee Nuclear Power Station, provided an opportunity for responses to some “Need to Knows” not yet answered, or discovered, through student research and inquiry-based scaffolding activities I had assigned.
With this background, students were now ready to work on their miniature houses as a culminating activity. Students completed a blue-print design of what they felt were essential rooms to be defined in the house and how the home would be wired per a set of criteria or evidence: series circuit, parallel circuits, LED lights, door bell, motor, fan, and a limited number of wires. Students presented their wired house in a multimedia presentation focusing on what more could be done to make the home more energy efficient. This presentation allowed students to communicating their solutions to the problem, a part of our inquiry-based approach and a 21st Century STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skill.
Why a project-based approach? This approach allows students to solve problems through exploration and imagination! Inquiry-based, problem solving projects require that students design, develop, and manipulate science to achieve the goal of learning scientific concepts and principles. This is best done when students have the opportunity to be imaginative and playful. This allows them to use their intuition; and in doing so, students have more control of the science activities in order to take ownership of their learning.
Following my research experience through SCIAN at Tuskegee University, I began working on some exciting projects for students such as The Smarter House Project. This project is the result of what I learned at Tuskegee University this past summer on microelectronics. High level stuff, indeed, at this lab, but how would I incorporate this new information on microelectronics into my classroom to benefit my students? How would I incorporate this while taking into consideration the age group?
Working with Dr. Korivi and his graduate students led to the development of this project. I’ve been able to infuse all I have learned this summer throughout the school year in a manner that benefits middle-schoolers. The lab recognized the age group I would be working with. Dr. Korivi allowed me to focus on what would best benefit my students and to take away knowledge, from the lab, that would result in focused learning for the students. We explored together on the potential take-aways from the Tuskegee Microelectronics Lab for my sixth-graders. Dr. Korivi, his team, and I agreed to focus on the use of microelectronics in my projects for students, such as in The Smarter House Project, the Agritecture Project, and the Weather scopes Project. Microelectronics, specifically LEDs, became the theme for this school year, in my classroom, where kids take ownership of their learning through inquiry.
The graduate students were so much a part of this for me. As “Lamont” worked on his capacitors, I shared with students our discussions on the use of capacitors in clothing to charge phones for the future. As “JP” worked on his 3D printing research, we printed the cubes and other objects for our density labs. “Nabila and Alexis”, female engineering majors, added value in video-taped interviews on clean-rooms and women engineers, a valuable point of view for my female students, as I attempt to bridge the gap between boys and girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers. A microbiology and microelectronics discussion by “Steven” added a point of interest for students during our Plant Unit and Agritecture Project. Dr. Korivi evaluated my plans along the way, providing his expertise on specific instruments, or microelectronics components, for the activities planned. He guided my research on how to make many aspects of the lab relevant to our microelectronics theme this year. The expertise in the lab enabled me to stretch my ingenuity to develop the year’s projects, while incorporating the use of microelectronics in ways that are appropriate for the age group. We discussed “Little Bits” and solar components of microelectronics for the Smarter House Project; LED lights for our Agritecture Project on hydroponics in the classroom; a consideration of microelectronics in heaters for animal shelter in our Design-A-Zoo Habitat project, and weather instruments designed with microelectronic components that would enable students to work more efficiently during our final project, Weatherscopes.
This ownership of one’s own learning results in actual growth of the concepts, but can also be confusing for some students. This is evident when results of the experiments, or activities, vary from group to group, are incomplete, or when students struggle to get new results. Some frustration is good, and this is when inquiry is further guided with “breadcrumbs”, or hints, nods, and a little direction from teacher to keep things going. The smiles, the “oohs”, “…and I knew that…”, all keep the kids motivated to continue their quest for answers to the activities, experiments, or projects that result in solving an actual real-world problem tied to a question, a “Need to Know” that they have.
This was the approach for the Smarter House Project in our third quarter during our Electricity and Magnetism Unit. In using an inquiry-based problem solving approach in my classroom, collaborative groups proceed this way:
Entry Event – Knows & Need to Knows – Problem Statements
Research – Guided Scaffolding & Inquiry Activities to solve their Problem Statements
I set up collaborative groups, which change with each new project. Students were provided with an Entry Event that introduced them to a topic and potential problem to solve. The Entry Event for the Smarter House Project was a letter to students’ parents asking that they take and electrical survey of their homes with their student, on the electrical safety of their home. They were to go on a personal quest, checking for frayed wires, number of appliances on one circuit, type of energy used, and more. Students were to bring back the survey assignment along with questions that developed as they proceeded with the survey. Upon their return, students collaborated on a list of “Need to Knows”.
Students dissected the entry event to decipher what, if any, they already Knew about the topic and problem, followed by recording what they Needed to Know from the entry event. In guiding this process, students placed their need to know questions on the board under pre-defined categories, or State Standards and Objectives. This was crucial to manage student questions and kept the project focused on the Standards. For example: a sticky-note on “Why do some bulbs flicker?” would be placed under “Circuits”, or “How does Duke Power make electricity?” would be place under types of Energy sources. The letter, or entry event, was written with “breadcrumbs”, or topics students needed to research in order to proceed with the project.
Students were then ready to develop Problem Statements to begin their inquiry. Collaborative groups began with various problem statements:
- “How can we as GEC architects design a smarter home to reduce our carbon footprint?”
- “How can we as 6th graders figure out a way to wire a house so that it is more energy efficient?”
- “How can we as electricians come up with a house that uses less energy so that it costs less to keep up with?”
- “How can we as home designers wire a house so that it uses less energy?”
All problem statements include a real-world role for students, problem to solve, the reason for the inquiry. Once kids had their problem statements, research followed, along with scaffolding activities to teach skills in circuits, magnetism, electromagnetism. Students then moved towards solving the problem, thus the Smarter House Project! In this project, students applied architecture skills to plan a smarter home, wire the house in series and parallel circuits, used the motor to power the fan, and research more on what makes a home “smart” in 2016. This project may have been the main focus of my CIAN/RET at Tuskegee University, but it went much further, as one may imagine, resulting in several projects for the year – Microelectronics in Lemon’s Lab!