Science of the Summer Olympics: designing safety helmets

The 2012 Summer Olympics provides an exciting backdrop for STEM opportunities. Help students apply both the concepts of science and engineering design with Science of the Summer Olympics videos and connected lesson plans created by the partnership of NBC Learn, NSF, and NSTA. This installment, Designing Safety Helmets, focuses on the intersection of safety, design, and performance. With the current emphasis on preventing head injuries in middle- and high-school athletes, this one is sure to spark lively discussion.

One of the things you’ll notice about the connected lesson plans, based loosely on the research of Brian Hand at the University of Iowa, is that the traditional investigative framework of scientific methods is replaced by a more student-driven approach fueled by your prompts. The idea of students making claims based on their own investigative evidence gives students more ownership of their results, which generally results in greater depth of understanding. Your state or district standards, however, may be focused on aspects of scientific methods, such as “Students will form a hypothesis or an if/then statement.” If so, help students recast their beginning question into a hypothesis. For example, a beginning question such as How do different materials react to the same amount of force? can be recast into a hypothesis such as “If the same amount of force is applied to three different kinds of foam, the densest foam will compress the least.” As students complete their investigation and begin to make claims based on their evidence, help them realize that similarly, their results can be used to state whether their hypothesis was supported or not supported.

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