Thursday, May 26, 2016

Engineering Design in the Classroom - From Performance Expectations to Classroom Curriculum

Today is the last session at the Common Core Café! Its been a great year! Thank you to all who have attended and invested your time in learning from each other and engaging in meaningful work that will impact all the students in your classroom. I want to especially thank Gladys Garcia and Angie Paz for sharing their content knowledge with us today. 
You can get today’s slides HERE

Do you want to teach engineering in your classroom? Go for it! It’s not as hard as you might think. At first, I was caught up on the on the lack of supplies, science kits, and textbooks. However, I knew I was shying away from teaching what I loved, science! This is when I began my search for real-world lessons plans and ideas I could use in my classroom. That’s when I came across the website:
The websites has over 60 design challenges to get students planning, building, testing, and iterating their own engineering projects. The students can engage in a true design process and utilize an amazing network of supportive experts, all while making real-world connections. I teach a first and second grade combination class and they have been able to complete a few of the challenges all on their own. It has been so exciting to see the students engage in real productive group work in completing the challenges. The groups were formed based on their ability. I try to group students in a balanced team where they can build upon each other’s assets.
Teamwork is essential to engineering problem solving. In their teams, students divide tasks and responsibilities amongst themselves and rotate roles so that each team member experiences the positions of leader, team recorder, designer, builder, and materials manager. Students who work together to solve problems learn that teamwork is a balance of consensus and leadership. Because each team member undertakes each role at different times in the project, students discover how to motivate and how to support.
The biggest key to teaching engineering is getting students to use an engineering design process. While there are thousands of variations of the engineering design process, the general format is defining the problem, identifying criteria and constraints, brainstorm solutions, choosing an approach, building a prototype, and testing the solution. These are some of the anchor posters I use to teach my students the engineering design process: 

What is the problem?
What do you already know? 

What are the limits or 
controls of the task? 

What are some solutions to the problem?
Research to find out more.
Brainstorm with your team.
Choose a way to solve the problem.

Draw a diagram. 

What supplies will you 

Who will do the jobs? 

Make a list of the steps 
you will take

Follow your plan. 

Collaborate with your 

Work steadily and 
manage your time. 

Test your design. 

Learn from your mistakes.
Make your design even better.
Test it again.

Re-design again!

Share your design with the whole group. Be sure you discuss how your errors led to a better design and what successes you had. Let every team member talk!

One of my favorite activities to start the year off is the Spaghetti Tower Challenge, also known as the Build an Edible Skyscraper. This activity gets my students working in teams and having the students engage in real productive work groups.

Materials - Each group needs:
  • 20 unbroken pieces of uncooked, long pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine or fettuccini
  • 30 small marshmallows
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Weights or small books

1. The object of this activity is to build a tower as high AND as strong as you can using only a limited supply of spaghetti (or linguine or fettuccini) and marshmallows. There are no step-by-step instructions for this project, only the constraints of limited resources! Students can do whatever they want with the materials to try to build a structure as tall, stable and strong as possible. The project can be made more difficult by adding more constraints such as fewer materials, a minimum height requirement, or a requirement to support at least a minimum weight for a given time. Let the student teams' imagination, creativity and ingenuity run wild.

2. Hold a competition and give points for how tall the structure is as well as how much weight it can hold. A good way to comparatively measure the effectiveness of each structure is by having students take the load the structure can support and divide it by the weight of the structure. The higher this number, the more effective the structure. For example, 30g (maximum weight structure could hold) divided by 10g (weight of structure alone) = 3.

3. Before testing the structures, have students measure and record the height and weight of their structure.
4. How much weight does the structure support? Five grams? 10 grams? 20 grams? 30 grams? Have students record their structure's maximum weight held on the worksheet, and calculate the load to weight ratio for comparison purposes.

5. As a class, graph the amount of weight each structure held vs. how much each structure weighed as well as the height of the structure. Discuss different trends and use the graph to lead in to the other discussion questions.

6. After the competition, hold a class discussion:
  • Discuss which structure was the tallest and held the most weight. 
  • Which structures had the highest ratio of load to structure weight? 
  • Which structures held the most weight, regardless of height, and why. 
  • Discuss the success or failure of the materials used. Spaghetti cannot hold much tension or compression; therefore, it breaks very easily. Marshmallows handle compression well, but do not hold up to tension (the spaghetti can slip out of them). 
  • Which geometric shapes seemed the strongest for holding weight -  triangles, squares, or circles?

Here is a handout I created to go with this activity: 

These are few additional challenges we completed! 

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