In the ConnecTions in the Making project, researchers and district partners work to develop and study community-connected, integrated science and engineering curriculum units that support diverse elementary students’ science and engineering ideas, practices, and attitudes. In the community-connected units, students in the third, fourth, and fifth grades use human-centered design strategies to prototype and share functional solutions to a design challenge rooted in the students’ local community while also exploring scientific explanations of the phenomena and mechanisms related to the challenge.
One of these units is “Reservoir Rescue,” a fifth grade Environmental Engineering unit comprised of 12 lessons, approximately 1 hour each, including 2 lessons to launch the unit, 4 inquiry lessons, 4 engineering design lessons that build to the final design challenge, and 2 lessons to prepare for and host a design exposition.
In the unit launch lesson, students are introduced to an engineering problem in their own community: the river that leads to a backup drinking reservoir is badly polluted and could lead to health issues if the petroleum pollution in particular made it to the reservoir. Students also discuss the purpose of modeling in designing solutions to engineering problems.
In the inquiry lessons, students spend two days engaging in and reflecting on team inquiry activities and teacher demonstrations related to water cycle, one day exploring the stochastic nature of water particles in the water cycle, and one day analyzing human impacts on the water cycle.
Students then spend a number of days on the design challenge, where students in teams design, build, test, and iterate on a scale model solution to the river-reservoir pollution problem within a long clear plastic bin. Students build filtration systems in the middle of the bin using an assortment of plastic mesh, cotton, cheesecloth, clay, straws, sand, and ???. To test their designs, polluted water (water with oil, glitter, and various sized beads) is poured into the slightly elevated “river” end of the bin, flows through the filter, and collects at the “reservoir” end of the bin, where it is evaluated to see how much pollution remains. Almost all the initial designs fail the test and student teams iterate and continue testing until their designs succeed or they run out of time.
At the final Design Expo, students share their designs and design process with other students and members of the school and greater community.
While the unit was designed to build on the 5th grade engineering and earth and space sciences standards, it also functions as a stand-alone integrated science and engineering unit for grades 3-6. Also, while the launch lesson as written connects to a current engineering problem in [blinded], examples of similar types of problems common to many communities are also provided.
At the exchange, we will provide full documentation of the final design challenge, including examples of student solutions, and links to the accompanying unit lessons.
The full paper will be available to logged in and registered conference attendees once the conference starts on
June 22, 2020, and to all visitors after the conference ends on June 26, 2021
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.