Novel Engineering Challenges Wraps Up Its Third Challenge Cycle

December 12, 2017 at 11:43 am Leave a comment

by Susan Bitetti, Education Specialist

Between April and December 1, 2017, Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) designed, developed, and hosted NovelEngineeringChallenges.org, a series of three open-ended, engineering design challenges based on children’s literature and hosted on an online platform as part of a grant funded by the United Engineering Foundation. The overarching goal of the project was to broaden interest and participation in engineering by providing a new entry point to engineering through literacy. Teachers tried out Novel Engineering (NE), a research-based engineering approach developed at the CEEO, with their students using supporting curriculum available on the website. For each challenge, students read the book associated with the challenge and then designed and built solutions to address the problems they found in the stories. Teachers posted pictures of their students’ designs on the Novel Engineering Challenges website, which allowed them to participate in a national competition where community members could vote on their favorite submission. There were two categories of winners: the Popular Vote and Judge’s Choice.

The third challenge cycle, using the books Poppy by Avi and Weslandia by Paul Fleischman was the most exciting challenge cycle yet. Poppy, a novel about a field mouse and the challenges she faces in overcoming the danger of the woodland owl, Mr. Ocax, saw 48 student entries showcasing a large array of student creativity! The winning entries included a vehicle for Poppy cleverly disguised as a porcupine and a drawbridge to help Poppy cross the creek. Meanwhile, the picture book Weslandia saw 131 different group entries spanning intricate shelters for Wesley (the main character), to juice makers, to zip lines.

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Judge’s choice winner: a mobile greenhouse for Wesley and a porcupine car for Poppy

We were blown away by the range of problems students chose to solve, and especially by the students that found unique ways to test the “success” of their projects. One group, for instance, developed a system for Wesley, since he was living in the outdoors and relying on himself for clothing, shelter, and food, to produce juice from his crops. They demonstrated the juice press in their video using play dough and water (surprisingly not as messy as it might sound!). It was also impressive to see just how much students could create with varied materials. The NovelEngineeringChallenges website offered support to schools seeking materials for their classrooms through portable maker workshop give-aways, material lists, and other curriculum resources all available online.

One of the things we value the most in the Novel Engineering framework is the lack of emphasis on “tech heavy” materials and demonstrating how much students can accomplish with just found or recycled materials. This makes the framework accessible to a larger span of schools with varied resources. And sure enough, we saw schools from all over the country and varied demographics participate in the Novel Engineering Challenges community. Our third round involved participants in Minnesota, New England, New Mexico, Tennessee, and even a US military base in Japan.

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We are very excited by the student work and community generated through these challenges! Thank you to everyone who has supported and contributed to Novel Engineering Challenges and stay tuned for more challenges to come in January 2018!

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