Students learn that dams do not last forever. Similar to other human-made structures, such as roads and bridges, dams require regular maintenance and have a finite lifespan. Many dams built during the 1930-70s, an era of intensive dam construction, have an expected life of 50-100 years. Due to inadequate maintenance and/or for environmental reasons, some of these dams will fail or be removed in the next 50 years. The engineers with Splash Engineering have an ethical obligation to remind Thirsty County of the maintenance and lifespan concerns associated with its dam.
In the exploration of ways to use solar energy, students investigate the thermal energy storage capacities of different test materials to determine which to use in passive solar building design.
Students make a simple conductivity tester using a battery and light bulb. They learn the difference between conductors and insulators of electrical energy as they test a variety of materials for their ability to conduct electricity.
Students learn about using renewable energy from the Sun for heating and cooking as they build and compare the performance of four solar cooker designs. They explore the concepts of insulation, reflection, absorption, conduction and convection.
Students conduct Internet research to investigate the purpose and current functioning status of some of the largest dams throughout the world. They investigate the success or failure of eight dams and complete a worksheet. While researching the dams, they also gain an understanding of the scale of these structures by recording and comparing their reservoir capacities. Students come to understand that dams, like all engineered structures, have a finite lifespan and require ongoing maintenance and evaluation for their usefulness.
Students are introduced to sound energy concepts and how engineers use sound energy. Through hands-on activities and demonstrations, students examine how we know sound exists by listening to and seeing sound waves. They learn to describe sound in terms of its pitch, volume and frequency. They explore how sound waves move through liquids, solids and gases. They also identify the different pitches and frequencies, and create high- and low-pitch sound waves.
Students further their understanding of the salmon life cycle and the human structures and actions that aid in the migration of fish around hydroelectric dams by playing an animated PowerPoint game involving a fish that must climb a fish ladder to get over a dam. They first brainstorm their own ideas, and then learn about existing ways engineers have made dams "friendlier" to migrating fish, before being quizzed as part of the game.
Students are introduced to the idea of electrical energy. They learn about the relationships between charge, voltage, current and resistance. They discover that electrical energy is the form of energy that powers most of their household appliances and toys. In the associated activities, students learn how a circuit works and test materials to see if they conduct electricity. Building upon a general understanding of electrical energy, they design their own potato power experiment. In two literacy activities, students learn about the electrical power grid and blackouts.
Students learn about the nature of thermal energy, temperature and how materials store thermal energy. They discuss the difference between conduction, convection and radiation of thermal energy, and complete activities in which they investigate the difference between temperature, thermal energy and the heat capacity of different materials. Students also learn how some engineering requires an understanding of thermal energy.
Students relate thermal energy to heat capacity by comparing the heat capacities of different materials and graphing the change in temperature over time for a specific material. Students learn why heat capacity is an important property of thermal energy that engineers use in many applications.
Students learn how the sun can be used for energy. They learn about passive solar heating, lighting and cooking, and active solar engineering technologies (such as photovoltaic arrays and concentrating mirrors) that generate electricity. Students investigate the thermal energy storage capacities of test materials. They learn about radiation and convection as they build a model solar water heater and determine how much it can heat water in a given amount of time. In another activity, students build and compare the performance of four solar cooker designs. In an associated literacy activity, students investigate how people live "off the grid" using solar power.
Students are introduced to the structure, function and purpose of locks and dams, which involves an introduction to Pascal's law, water pressure and gravity.
Students learn about the difference between temperature and thermal energy. They build a thermometer using simple materials and develop their own scale for measuring temperature. They compare their thermometer to a commercial thermometer, and get a sense for why engineers need to understand the properties of thermal energy.
Students engage in an interactive "hot potato" demonstration to gain an appreciation for the flow of electrons through a circuit. Students role play the different parts of a simple circuit and send small items representing electrons (paper or candy pieces) through the circuit.
Students use potatoes to light an LED clock (or light bulb) as they learn how a battery works in a simple circuit and how chemical energy changes to electrical energy. As they learn more about electrical energy, they better understand the concepts of voltage, current and resistance.
Student groups rotate through four stations to examine light energy behavior: refraction, magnification, prisms and polarization. They see how a beam of light is refracted (bent) through various transparent mediums. While learning how a magnifying glass works, students see how the orientation of an image changes with the distance of the lens from its focal point. They also discover how a prism works by refracting light and making rainbows. And, students investigate the polar nature of light using sunglasses and polarized light film.
Students are introduced to the basic biology behind Pacific salmon migration and the many engineered Columbia River dam structures that aid in their passage through the river's hydroelectric dams. Students apply what they learn about the salmon life cycle as they think of devices and modifications that might be implemented at dams to aid in the natural cycle of fish migration, and as they make (hypothetical) Splash Engineering presentations about their proposed fish mitigation solutions for Birdseye River's dam in Thirsty County.
Students learn about Pascal's law, an important concept behind the engineering of dam and lock systems, such as the one that Thirsty County wants Splash Engineering to design for the Birdseye River (an ongoing hypothetical engineering scenario). Students observe the behavior of water in plastic water bottles spilling through holes punctured at different heights, seeing the distance water spurts from the holes, learning how water at a given depth exerts equal pressure in all directions, and how water at increasing depths is under increasing pressure.
Students learn about the Earth's water cycle, especially about evaporation. Once a dam is constructed, its reservoir becomes a part of the region's natural hydrologic cycle by receiving precipitation, storing runoff water and evaporating water. Although almost impossible to see, and not as familiar to most people as precipitation, evaporation plays a critical role in the hydrologic cycle, and is especially of interest to engineers designing new dams and reservoirs, such as those that Splash Engineering is designing for Thirsty County.
The engineers at Splash Engineering (the students) have been commissioned by Thirsty County to conduct a study of evaporation and transpiration in their region. During one week, students observe and measure (by weight) the ongoing evaporation of water in pans set up with different variables, and then assess what factors may affect evaporation. Variables include adding to the water an amount of soil and an amount of soil with growing plants.