The Devil's Playground and Loop-Da-Loop are roller coasters that Chicago students designed as physics projects, taking into consideration acceleration, gravity, kinetic energy and other forces. Models of these roller coasters and other unique science projects were on display at a project showcase for Chicago high school students hosted by the School of Education and Social Policy on May 26.
The students are participants in the Meaningful Science Consortium (MSC), of which SESP is the lead partner. MSC partners with nine Chicago high schools in an effort to improve science instruction, increase students' achievement in science and prepare students for college-level science. The three-year MSC science curriculum is project-based and uses the inquiry method as it teaches science through application to the real world.
During their visit to campus, the students presented their science projects at the Northwestern's annual Undergraduate Research Symposium and then toured campus science laboratories. Approximately 90 students visited a variety of labs where researchers study subjects ranging from alternative fuels and electric cars to high-pressure minerals.
Student projects ranged from designs for alternative energy and habitat-sensitive buildings to plans for animals perfectly adapted to a specific environment. "The showcase provides MSC an opportunity to spotlight students' achievements in science. The projects the students present display their abilities to synthesize science concepts they have learned and apply them in new contexts," says research associate professor Linda Brazdil, who is director of teacher support for MSC.
The daylong annual event also provides the opportunity for students to visit a college campus. "This can motivate them to continue to work hard to do well in school by providing a concrete experience of college, something that often is an abstract goal, especially to younger high school students," adds Brazdil.
Students and teachers at the showcase had a positive response to the MSC curriculum. Robert Romanowski, a teacher at Kenwood Academy and a master's student at SESP, says he likes the earth science curriculum "not only because of the topics but also because of the structures," such as lots of labs and activities. Students like exploring in the lab first and then following up with research into how the concepts apply to the real world, according to Romanowski. He values the showcase event as a "chance for students to show off all their hard work" and see a university campus. "It's a great, rewarding experience for them," he notes.
His students approved of their assignment to design a school in Florida on land where the gopher turtle is endangered. Their building plans took into consideration the local habitat for plants and animals. "It makes you look at it from all different angles and think about all the different stakeholders," says student Dekonti Davies.
A group from South Shore School of the Arts displaying a roller coaster also gave their project high marks. "I learned a lot, and I like being creative," says student Ida Davis. Carlos Cortes, a student at Kenwood Academy, described how his project was "the culmination of junior year biology." The lizard he designed specifically for the Sonoran Desert reflects evolution, homeostasis, continuity, equilibrium and interaction, he says.
Alicia Howe, a chemistry and physics teacher at Farragut Career Academy, says of MSC physics, "The kids really love the curriculum, including the working in groups and investigating on their own. … It's a good framework." She also appreciates the teacher support from MSC staff. "The coaches are really knowledgeable, and they give positive feedback," she says.
The showcase event can have lasting ramifications, according to Howe. "Exposure to a university gets them interested in the possibilities for after high school."
Top photo: Teacher Stephanie Jarem of Farragut Career Academy views a roller coaster design by students from School of the Arts.
Bottom photo: Jasmin Franklin, a student at Richards Career Academy, displays her poster on wind energy.