Amazing STEM Narrative
In my freshman physics course, students often struggle with abstract content, such as is encountered studying electricity and magnetism. To combat this, we engage in a variety of tangible engineering projects such as building motors, wind turbine generators, and speakers. The moment at hand is smaller in scale, but equally as powerful, and led me to pursue these types of projects in future years. After finding evidence that there is a magnetic field surrounding current-carrying wires, students are asked to predict the effects of this field in various situations. The three-dimensional reasoning required to do this proves challenging for many students. The standard approach to teaching this content is to use one’s hand to help make predictions, often referred to as the “right hand rule” or “curl rule”. In this approach the direction the thumb points represents the direction of the electric current in the wire, and the direction the fingers would curl around the wire represents the direction of the magnetic field surrounding the wire. The difficulty with this model is that the fingers have a lot of mobility, leading to erroneous positioning. After struggling with this tool, we constructed simple manipulatives using paper, paperclips, and pencils to be able to visualize the force field and make predictions. The power these manipulatives had on student understanding stunned me. This moment solidified my belief in the power of incorporating engineering projects and practices into the classroom. From this point on, student learning has been grounded in tangible engineering projects. This unit now starts with students dissecting speakers, and ends with them building their own.