Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Digital Learning Can Be a Zoo!

Students at Northwest ISD's STEM Academy recently finished an extensive project across two classes to research, design, and create a functional zoo habitat for a specific type of animal.  Students who were enrolled in both Mrs. Goodwin's Biology class and Mrs. Garrett's Intro to Engineering and Design class used their knowledge from both subjects to informatively create their habitats.

Initial Hand Drawn Plans
Austin, a student who worked on the Elephant Habitat Project, said that "the design part of the project had multiple steps.  The first plans were hand drawn and then scanned in so we had a copy of them.  Then I used inventor to create the digital model of the habitat."  Inventor is a 3D modeling program that offers professional-grade 3D mechanical design, documentation, and product simulation tools.  Student's in Mrs. Garrett's class use Inventor for numerous projects throughout the year, including this one.  "I started by creating a general shape of the habitat, then cut into it with features like stairs, rails, and trees," said Austin.

The project had many parts other than the actual modeling aspect.  Students had to research many aspects of their chosen animal's living needs and incorporate those into their design.  Factors such as natural habitat, environmental niche, food web, behavior, adaptations, and limiting resources were all considered.  Groups created folders in Google Drive to share and collaborate on their project portfolios while completing their research.   "My favorite part of the project was designing the zoo habitat so it resembled a real habitat," said student Marla, who worked on the Harpy Eagle Habitat Project.  "We discovered things during our research that changed out initial designs.  For example, two harpy eagles in the wild occupy an area of over 20 square miles and they typically nest at a specific height.  Because of this, we had to change our initial design which wasn't large or high enough."

Austin agreed with Marla, saying that "concepts for our design were created over and over, including many drafts as we did research."  But not only animal factors had to be taken into account when creating their zoo habitat, as they had to ensure that designs accounted for humans visiting as well. "For example, the [Americans with Disabilities Act] requires that all stairs be between 30 and 50 degree elevation, so we had to take that into account as well," said Austin.
Elephant Habitat Final Project Portfolio
This project incorporated technology for in-depth research as well as informed design using cutting edge modeling software, allowing students to explore multiple facets of what it takes to create a real zoo habitat.  If you'd like to examine some of the projects in more detail, check out the links below!

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