Ariana, a student at Buford Middle School, inspects the card-stock speaker she created before testing its fidelity.
We extended the concept to record
the motion of the mouse pendulum
on an electronic strip chart on a computer screen. But before introducing
this mixed-reality pendulum, we led
a playground activity in which paint
flowing from a hole in the bottom of
a swinging bucket creates a sine wave
on a strip of craft paper. This simple
activity is inexpensive, requiring only
a surplus paint bucket, and does not
require any electronic technologies.
It serves as a scaffold to anchor more
advanced explorations that combine
the computer with the physical world.
We used an inexpensive solenoid
to activate a pendulum, allowing students to determine the optimal rate to
feed energy into the system. This can
facilitate exploration of concepts such
as resonance and phase relationships.
Once students understand that a
simple repeating motion can generate
a waveform in this physical activity, a
mixed-reality activity can extend the
concept. Mouse pendulums are inexpensive enough to allow each child to have
more time exploring periodic motion.
Enabling the computer to control
inputs to the system as well as record
outputs lets students view changes
from a systemic perspective, adjusting
variables and observing outcomes.
Students can also use the understanding of these concepts and relationships as the basis for constructing
a speaker using card stock, magnet,
and wire. The students create the
speaker cone and base from card
stock. A coil of wire at the base of
the speaker cone generates a magnetic field that moves the speaker coil
(and the speaker cone attached to it),
causing the speaker to vibrate. The
students then compare the acoustic
characteristics of the speakers they
designed and constructed with the
characteristics of commercial speakers
and use their analyses as the basis for
revision of their designs. This provides
a real-world context for applying the
concepts they have learned.
You can access the mouse pendulum, paint bucket pendulum, and
paper speaker activities at wise.
ing design to the same level as scientific inquiry in classroom instruction”
( www.next genscience.org). Mixed-reality projects can provide a foundation for this, combining computer
simulations and controls with real-world applications in the same manner as actual science and engineering.
Thanks to advances in technology,
the cost of such activities has dropped
dramatically. The barrier to applying
science in the context of engineering design is now expertise, because
science teachers often have a limited
background in engineering design.
As the NGSS framework notes,
engineering is a distinct field with
its own goals, practices, and core
concepts. However, collaboration
across disciplines can make it possible
for students to learn science in the
context of engineering design. Students can deepen their understanding
of science while applying what they
learn in their everyday lives, and this
benefits science teachers, technology
educators, and the students that they
Controlling the Physical World
Papert envisioned that computers
could control actions in the physical
world as well as record them, suggesting that a linear actuator could act as
a pusher to feed energy into a system.
Learning Science from Engineering
The Next Generation Science
Standards (NGSS) call for a commitment to “fully integrating engineering
and technology into the structure of
science education by raising engineer-
The activities described are based in part on
work supported by the National Science Foundation ( nsf.gov). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of
the National Science Foundation.
Glen Bull ( email@example.com)
is co-director of the Center
for Technology and Teacher
Education in the Curry School
of Education at the University of
Virginia, USA. Bull co-authored
this column with Eric Bredder
( firstname.lastname@example.org), a technology educator;
Nigel Standish ( email@example.com), a
secondary science teacher; and Peter Malcolm
( firstname.lastname@example.org), a computer scientist.
Bredder, Standish, and Malcolm are graduate
fellows in the Center for Technology and Teacher
This computer screen shows the motion of a mouse pendulum as it simulates a swinging paint bucket with a hole in the bottom.