Lesson: What's the Problem?

Contributed by: Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Two images: An artists' illustration shows an asteroid moving through the Earth's atmosphere toward the planet. The top of a memo from the President of the U.S. to the special engineering task force on catastrophic collisions: Urgent Classified Memo... immediate deployment of special engineering forces for critical situation.
A critical situation requires engineers to first understand the problem and then learn more about topics related to the problem.
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Summary

This lesson introduces students to the Asteroid Impact unit and its engineering challenge: an asteroid is on course to impact the Earth and we must design the location and size of underground caverns to shelter the people from an uninhabitable Earth for one year. Students read the president's memo to receive their "marching orders." They form teams, become familiar with the maps, and complete investigative worksheets.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineering teams always begin the design process by defining the problem. This process involves identifying, through group discussion and research, the technical, financial and social criteria for successful solution design.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Fifth-grade reading level, familiarity with the inquiry based learning process.

Learning Objectives

  • Read, understand and identify a problem.
  • Hypothesize, through group discussion, what information might be required to solve the problem.
  • List design constraints (social, environmental, financial, etc.) that must be considered to adequately complete a functioning solution to the problem.
  • Learn basic map reading skills such as understanding a legend or key, and using a map scale to determine distances.

More Curriculum Like This

What's the Problem?

Students learn of the impending asteroid impact scenario, form teams and begin to study the situation in depth. A simple in-class simulation shows them the potential for destruction and disaster.

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Student teams determine the size of the caverns necessary to house the population of the state of Alabraska from the impending asteroid impact. They measure their classroom to determine area and volume, determine how many people the space could sleep, and scale this number up to accommodate all Alab...

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Middle School Lesson
Designing a Sustainable Guest Village in the Saguaro National Park

Students are challenged to design a permanent guest village within the Saguaro National Park in Arizona. To successfully address and respond to this challenge, students must acquire an understanding of desert ecology, environmental limiting factors, species adaptations and resource utilization.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design is a creative planning process that leads to useful products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Brainstorming is a group problem-solving design process in which each person in the group presents his or her ideas in an open forum. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop and communicate an evidence based scientific explanation around one or more factors that change Earth's surface (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Construct a scale model of the solar system, and use it to explain the motion of objects in the system such a planets, Sun, Moons, asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • There are different forms of energy, and those forms of energy can be changed from one form to another – but total energy is conserved (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The solar system is comprised of various objects that orbit the Sun and are classified based on their characteristics (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Introduction/Motivation

Students are called by the president to design underground caverns to protect and save people from an impending asteroid impact. The motivation is provided in the President's Memo

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

Basic information about asteroids (and additional web links) is provided in the CRFAO Briefing.

Associated Activities

  • What's the Problem? - Students learn of the impending asteroid impact scenario, form teams and begin to study the situation. A simulation shows them the potential for destruction and disaster. They look at maps and complete a worksheet and homework assignment to help them define and understand the problem.

Attachments

Assessment

Examine the worksheet to gauge students' comprehension of the engineering challenge. Help students generate a list of design constraints, such as the number of people, size of the asteroid, the length of the expected stay in the caverns and environmental considerations. Prompt them to find clues about constraints on their graphic organizer. Students refer back to this list to complete the activity, so a collaborative list on display at the front of the class may be most appropriate. Quiz them on the President's Memo. Review their homework assignments when turned in.

Lesson Extension Activities

Have students read the CRFAO Briefing and:

  • Look up one of the internet websites and write a report.
  • Construct a model of the solar system with an asteroid belt.
  • Write a paragraph about the importance of studying asteroids.

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Acknowledgements

Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 30, 2017

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