Last week we sat down with Dr. Iskander to discuss what kind of research project we could work upon. Our team consists of two graduate students, Eduardo Suescún and Andrew Cave, and two teachers, Russ Holstein and me. Dr. Iskander is a professor of civil engineering who specializes in transparent soils. I suggested we try something with soil permeability since my second graders study soil’s capacity to retain water. This connects well with a civil engineering lab activity so we decided to recreate this experiment for elementary and middle school students. We also need to include a mechatronics component into the experiment and shall utilize the Parallax Basic Stamp 2 to measure water level in order to record flow rate for falling and/or constant head. The distance from the sensor(the two silver cylinders below) to the surface of water will increase as the water drops from a tank into our soil sample.
I teach my second grade students the basic ingredients of soil: rock, pebbles, sand, silt, clay, and organic material. Rocks, pebbles, sand, and silt are all made of rock, but they are listed in descending order of particle size. The larger the particles, the larger the voids will be between particles. The larger the voids, the faster water will be a able to travel around the particles. If we have a jar of marbles and a jar of sand, which do you think would pass water quicker?
I would like to pay close attention to the design process. Students need to learn this process in order to be able to apply it to real world challenges that they encounter. Our first brainstorming session sought to find a connection with soil engineering, elementary science, and mechatronics. We felt the soil flow test met all of these needs. The defining of our problem moved along pretty quickly. This week we have spent most of our time planning/designing and revising. I will share more detail in next post.
This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site grant EEC-0807286. We thank the Mechatronics Lab and the Soil Mechanics Lab for hosting us during our summer research program.