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Engineering Design Challenges
Another form of interactive research is the design challenge, in which students apply skills in mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and technological design toward solving a specified problem within certain constraints. Design challenges differ from experiments in that the teacher specifies a specific problem for the students to address. Working with the provided specifications, students select, build, and test a design they have chosen to be optimal in balancing performance with cost. After demonstrating their devices, student teams assess the performance, cost, and strengths and weaknesses of each. This process is included in interactive research because the students demonstrate their devices publicly and share in the process of peer review.

Adobe Acrobat Reader ImageWater Sampler Design Challenge
Students collaborate to solve a water sampling design problem. For more information, download the Teacher's Manual and the Student's Manual. Both require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The excerpt below is from the teacher's manual:

A mysterious fish kill has occurred in a 100-ft section of the Arquin Creek that flows through one of the glacial gorges in Hester State Park. You are part of a student research team that has been granted permission by the state to perform a preliminary investigation of the site. Your team has decided to take water samples at various depths so that you can perform chemical tests. Maximum depth of the creek within the gorge has been estimated to be 10 feet. The structure of the gorge where the fish kill has occurred limits your access to the creek. The stream is 20 feet across and is bounded on both sides by nearly vertical rock ledges that extend from a minimum of 2 feet to a maximum of 15 feet above the water's surface. You decide to build a sampling device that will allow you to retrieve water samples from the creek's edge to midstream from various locations along the rock ledges.

The principal author of these materials was Harry Canning, Newark Valley (NY) Central School, with supporting and editorial assistance from Leanne Avery, Bill Carlsen, Dan Meyer, and Dwight Schuster. Please note that these materials are Cornell University and should not be distributed beyond your classroom without permission from Environmental Inquiry.

Other Engineering Design Challenges
These design challenges appear in the Cornell Scientific Inquiry Series books:

  • Wastewater Treatment - students use physical, biological, and chemical processes to treat simulated wastewater. This design challenge appears in Decay and Renewal.
  • Stormwater Treatment - students use these processes to contain and filter large volumes of simulated storm runoff. This design challenge appears in Watershed Dynamics.


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