The Algae Grows the Future project uses algae-based experiments to promote careers in engineering to K-12 students/educators and engineering freshmen students. These experiments present engineering fundamentals and scientific principles using algae, and provide students hands-on experience and problem-solving skills. The experiments also include concepts from both the humanities and social sciences, such as ethics, gender, global challenges and other related topics. The experiments conducted in this project include calorimetry for the viability of algae-based foods, gas transfer projects to measure the effects algae has on dissolved oxygen levels in water, and algae applications such as biofuels, cosmetics, aquatic feed, materials and much more.
Both before and after completing the experiments, students were given surveys to determine how the experiments affected their learning experience as well as their views on engineering as a whole. Students also participated in focus groups to discuss the impact of the project. From the conducted surveys, it was determined that the students had a better understanding of engineering fundamentals after completion of the experiments. These conclusions support the idea that algae-based learning promotes engineering education with students.
More specifically, it was found that the students in the focus group were able to increase their learning goal understanding, task values, and perceived confidence with their learning abilities, with significant improvements also noted in self-efficacy and self-regulated learning. The focus group also found that the students were able to make better connections to their selected career path, and students were found to have a greater ability to persevere when presented with difficult engineering problems. While the study was only completed on a relatively small group size, the successful results from this group show that algae-based learning is a valuable project worth pursuing further. K-12 educators participated in a day long workshop and also participated in a survey. Survey results indicated that the algae project could easily be implemented in elementary and middle schools and correlated with the NJ Next Generation Science standards. The project results are highly encouraging and rewarding.
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