Solar urban design and data mining in the classroom

June 23rd, 2013 by Charles Xie
Image usage permitted by students.
Image usage permitted by students.
In the past two weeks, seventy ninth graders in three physics classes of Arlington High School (MA) each used our Energy3D CAD software to solve the Solar Urban Design Challenge (which I blogged earlier). I observed them for three days. I didn't have experience with these students before, but according to their teacher, they were exceptionally engaged. Most students hadn't "run out of steam" even after 4-5 days of continuous work on the design project. As anyone who works in schools knows, it is hard to keep students interested in serious science projects for that long, especially near the end of a semester. These students seemed to have enjoyed this learning experience. This is a good sign that we must have done something right. I suppose the colorful 3D solar visualization provides some eye candies to keep them curious for a while.

Image usage permitted by students.
CAD tools are probably not new things in classrooms these days, at least not for Arlington High School that uses SketchUp and AutoCAD for years. What is cool about our CAD tool is that all these students' actions were recorded behind the scene -- at a frequency of every two seconds! That is to say, the computer was "watching" every move of every student. This sounds like a little concerning if you have heard in the news about a secret governmental project called the Prism that is probably "watching" me writing this blog article at this time. But rest assured that we are using this data mining technology in a good way. Our mission is not to spy on students but to figure out how to help them learn science and engineering in a more fruitful way. This is probably equally important -- if not more -- to our national security if we are to maintain our global leadership in science and technology.

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