For those teachers involved in the teaching of L3 Btec Applied Science, one of the most difficult aspects of the course can be the contextualisation of the learning experience.
Btec demands that the learners understand “why” they are completing an activity far more than academic orientated courses. Good in theory, often difficult for the class teacher to find a niche, other than “you are a junior technician and you have been asked to research XYZ – now produce a poster…”
Determined to find another option I decided to set our Year 12 students up as a “consumer research lab”, testing products and working on behalf of clients to optimise manufacturing processes.
Thus engaged I set about brainstorming who we could contact for our first “commission”.
I contacted the US makers of “super glue” and obtained a large sample box of glues – over x20 bottles to play with.
Our first experiment – investigate how the duration of bond changes the bond strength.
Without writing up the experiment too much, we prepared paired samples of polycarbonate rods and glued the pairs together. The shear force (as measured as Torque in Nm) required to break the sample apart was measured for different glue “cure” time. The results as posted in the graph at the top of this article.
The students where then taken through the process of writing up the findings in a properly referenced scientific report – which, and this is the key contextualisation, was then sent back to head office. << There was a clear POINT to their activities, one that was not faked.
To use Dan Meyer’s terminology, I had avoided the trap of pseudocontext by not contriving a patently false situation and forcing my students to buy into it. No “writing letters to Martians” for me.
My challenge now, is how to take this to the next level?
- Do I establish a young enterprise style “club” and actually try and sell these services?
- What about contacting local manufacturing businesses and offering to test their processes?
- Do we test consumer claims and report back to them / the media — you know what I mean — the “makes your hair 50% stronger — really? lets test it
For me, breaking away from pseudocontext in the L3 Btec has been a real eye opener and one that I will develop in the coming weeks / months.
Call to action
Do you use pseudocontext to deliver challenges to your students? How could you make the challenges real, with real rewards?