Unique Hands-On Engineering Facility Set For Use BY K-12 Groups This Summer

Published: June 10, 1997

CU-Boulder’s new $11.5 million hands-on engineering facility, designed to provide real-world experience to more than 1,200 undergraduates during the academic year, will be used this summer by hundreds of K-12 students and teachers across the state.

The unique three-story Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory features two large learning plazas and 30 lab stations outfitted with advanced instruments and computers. Undergraduate engineering teams will use it to tackle hands-on problems ranging from water-pollution mitigation and software design to the construction of spacecraft instruments and assistive technology devices for people with disabilities.

"There is nothing like this facility anywhere in the United States," said civil engineering Research Associate Jacquelyn Sullivan, who co-directs the facility with mechanical engineering Professor Lawrence Carlson. "Our vision of ITLL is that of a K-16 facility, and we would like to get more kids in the engineering pipeline and attract a broader range of students to CU-Boulder.”

Beginning this week, a group of 50 junior and senior high school students from tribal nations across the country are taking a six-week program at ITLL as part of an American Indian Science and Engineering Society Upward Bound Program. The students, the first members of their families to attend college, will work on a variety of hands-on learning projects at CU and stay in a dorm to get a taste of campus life. They will present poster papers July 17 detailing their project results.

Also beginning this week, a series of 14 week-long, half-day science and engineering enrichment workshops for kids organized through CU’s Science Discovery Program will be held in ITLL. The first session on kinetics will host 30 third-through-fifth graders and feature an elaborate, interactive ball machine that helps students learn the basics of physics in a fun, hands-on way.

Other CU Science Discovery topics at ITLL this summer include Winged Things and Gliders, Girls Exploring Science, MicroCosmos, Second-Stage Model Rockets, Reptiles and Amphibians, Math Explorers and NASA: Toys in Space.

A middle school teacher-training program known as Project Learn, sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Science Foundation, also begins at ITLL this week. Thirty-three teachers from rural Colorado school districts will team up with Science Discovery staff and NCAR scientists to develop creative science projects and new curricula to take back to their home schools.

One major summer highlight at ITLL will be ”Go With the Flow ” -- two classes for 44 middle school students and one for 20 teachers. The ITLL team developed this “fluids for every day life” engineering course for middle schools focusing on water and wind, said exhibits coordinator Steve Davis. Davis and other ITLL team members worked with local science teachers this spring to develop activities and curricula for the teachers, who will begin arriving July 21.

“This is all about opening the eyes of young people to engineering in everyday life,” said Sullivan. “Our goal is to help young students and their teachers begin to see and experience engineering as learning how to solve problems and how to build things for the benefit of society.”

Fluids studies include things like measuring the flow of rivers and streams and predicting water flows several days in advance, she said. “We want to show these kids that engineering is accessible, understandable and fun.”

This summer also will feature a five-week Summer Bridge Program sponsored by CU-Boulder’s Minority Engineering Program for incoming freshmen. The session was designed to hone math and science skills for Hispanics, African Americans and American Indians and to provide a slice of campus life by housing them in a dorm.

The MEP program also will sponsor an Exploring Engineering Institute at ITLL with four days of presentations and experiments for about 30 elementary, middle school and high school teachers, counselors and coordinators in late July. ITLL faculty also will host a High School Honors Institute in early August for 180 students.

“We are committed to outreach, which we consider central to our mission,” said Davis. “Once kids are exposed to ITLL’s state-of-the-art learning environment, their interest in engineering will be heightened.”

One hallmark of the ITLL building is its “inside-out” design, exposing many of the building’s systems through transparent wall panels. Students can use more than 200 monitor sensors throughout the structure to “take the pulse of the building,” including its heat-transfer flows, structural and mechanical components, electrical systems, computer networks and other systems.

They also can monitor its temperature, airflow, humidity and vibration for various experiments. “We wanted to show the students what makes a building tick, so we designed this one with no secrets,” said Sullivan.

“The ITLL creates a wonderful context for learning, whether we are talking about elementary school children or undergraduates,” said Davis. “Even if K-12 students decide to pursue other disciplines in college, they will have gotten a quality educational experience from ITLL that is not available anywhere else.”