http://www.wisengineering.org

Contributor
Amanda Gonczi & Jennifer Chiu
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Interactive Simulation
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

The WISEngineering hydroponics project aims to help students develop their understanding of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. WISEngineering is a free online, engineering-design learning environment that scaffolds engineering design by guiding students through explicit design processes such as identifying specifications and constraints, and ideating, testing, evaluating, and refining design solutions.  By using a combination of the WISE online simulation and a follow up in-classroom investigation, this article describes a lesson progression that gives students experience identifying the needs of plants as well as the experience of engineering a better hydroponic container design.

Intended Audience

Learner
Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

HS-ETS1-4 Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The online steps are very clear to show a couple of sample models yet encourages students to make their own design. The steps also highlight the use of the Engineering Design Process, as it applies to designing and testing a prototype, as well as optimizing the design. The teacher should be sure that students are following the iterative cycle and not just planning one system to test. The ideal engineering project is re-evaluated several times and optimized to meet criteria. The teacher should plan to allow enough class time for at least one optimization and discussion of possible next steps that students would follow if there was more time. Optimally, the engineering design should be ongoing, but class time constraints will limit this.

MS-LS1-6 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on tracing movement of matter and flow of energy.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the biochemical mechanisms of photosynthesis.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The lesson plan and online portal guides the student in gathering information about the role of photosynthesis in plants as well as the needs of plants to complete photosynthesis and cellular respiration. The information is presented as an early step in a process where the students will design and test hydroponic systems to grow plants. By considering the needs of plants, the students can make informed decisions about the design of the hydroponic system so the plants can have maximum growth. The teacher should be sure that the students read the information carefully and refer back to it as they design and test their ideas to optimize their hydroponic system design. In the assessment of the project, students are asked about the roles that photosynthesis and cellular respiration have in the development of their hydroponic system design. This may be a big step for some students but class discussion or teacher facilitation of group discussions may help students see how the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration need to be considered when designing the system.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
By using the plant growth data that they collect, students are able to construct an explanation about the needs of plants to grow as well as the effectiveness of their hydroponic system design. In section 5.1 of the WISEngineering site, they specifically note that substrates like sand or sheep's wool "support the plants, but do not provide food to plants," which seems to imply that typical soil does provide food for the plans, which is clearly not the case. Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration are abstract ideas for students; this investigation provides an opportunity to show students the outcome of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Students need time to collect the data and time to discuss what the data shows with other students. Additionally, students should be given the opportunity to redesign their system to collect additional data that can be compared. Teachers and students should also compare data from the groups in the class to determine which design was the most effective at maximizing plant growth.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The use of models in this activity shows students several samples and then allows them to design their own. Students also have access to some background information that explains the needs of plants. The teacher may want to have additional materials that could be used to make alternative models so there is a wide variety of ideas displayed by the class.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The online module includes reading and interactives to explain the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Students are required to respond to questions as they progress through the screens that illustrate and explain the information. Although the students need to use the concepts of photosynthesis and cellular respiration to help support their ideas in the assessment questions, they are not a good assessment of conceptual understanding. Having students do some actual reflecting on what this learning means for their design would be one useful change (without just telling them what it means). For example, after students read that plants don't get their food from soil -- what would that suggest for plant growth system? It may be good for the teacher to have some other resources available to students that explains this information and to review the ideas with the students since chemical reactions that occur within plants are an abstract concept and may be difficult for some adolescent learners to comprehend.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Optimizing the design solution is important to the engineering process, but it requires time. Students do optimize in this lesson, but there are at least a couple times where students are generically asked how they could improve their design. It would be great if they actually had to refer back to the criteria and constraints in that justification. An improvement could be to include new science learning in that justification. In the article, it mentions how students are being asked to use their learning about photosynthesis and cellular respiration in their designs. This should be more central, as part of the re-design process and initial design ideas. Students don't get asked to make the connection until the end (final section), where they're asked how photosynthesis and cellular respiration relates to their design. A good question would be -- explain how your design will maximize the potential for photosynthesis (or cellular respiration) in this system? Students need to see that this project is not a ‘one and done’ type of project. The teacher should allow for several iterations, or at least one iteration and a discussion of what the next steps would be if time allowed.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In the first prototype development and testing (section 4), students are asked to justify what works best, but they're not asked to reflect on those test results in relation to initial criteria and constraints of the design - that's a key part of engineering that deserves its own question. In section 6, on the other hand, they have to provide two reasons why their design meets the requirements, which is good. The teacher should be aware that substantial time should be allowed for the design, testing, and modification of the hydroponic system to be sure that students understand that the process is not quick and may require several attempts prior to success.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Although this concept is illustrated in the background knowledge supplied by the module, the teacher will want to discuss this with the class or with each group as they work through the module. Since this is a foundational idea to many life science concepts the teacher will want to develop this understanding. Use of a formative assessment probe (such as one from Page Keeley) may be used to elicit the students’ understanding and engage students in a class discussion.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource has potential to be aligned to 3 dimensions of NGSS but the lessons are very teacher-driven. Students will benefit from more meaningful reflection in relation to scientific learning and criteria/constraints for their engineering work. There are many opportunities for students to engage in science and engineering practices while they are developing their own ideas about the cycling of matter and flow of energy through a plant. The cross cutting concept of energy and matter fits well within the lesson progression.

  • Instructional Supports: The information provided is relevant and the interactive diagrams are well portrayed to help students understand the chemical processes that occur inside a plant. The photos of prototype hydroponic systems are clear. Teacher support is available and the teacher can customize the module for more specific needs.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The teacher has access to student responses while they work in the system. The system requires answers for many of the section prior to accessing the next page. One caveat is that the student can bypass this restriction by typing one letter in the response box. The teacher should monitor students periodically to be sure they are answering questions completely and appropriately.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The module is accessed through the internet, so a strong connection with appropriate bandwidth is required so students are not interrupted while using the portal. The teacher access to answers can be cumbersome to review. Each student’s responses are read separately and the responses cannot be sorted to see all student responses to a particular question. The website is newly developed, so a better teacher access may be forthcoming.