Wild Water Slide: Engineering and Experimental Design (Part 1/3)
Lesson 10 of 18
Objective: SWBAT plan and carry out an engineering and experimental investigation about speed using science and engineering practices.
Welcome to the physics water park! Middle school students are enthusiastic about roller coasters, water slides and giant water toilet bowls. The Wild Water Slide series of lessons is designed to provide practice planning and carrying out scientific investigations and engineering design processes (SP3). From beginning to end, students ask questions and define problems to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables (SP1) about water slides. Students analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the phenomena they observe (SP4); apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (SP5); construct explanations and design solutions while undertaking a design project (SP6); and engage in argument from evidence (SP7).
Additional connections to Common Core Mathematical Standards in Measurement and Data occur when students collect data and then analyze their data during Part 2 and Part 3 of the lesson. Students also access Common Core Language Arts Standards when writing arguments from evidence in Part 3 of the lesson.
This series of lessons can be used or re-used to explore many different concepts including: mass, weight, speed/velocity/acceleration, forces and Newton's Laws of Motion (PS2.A: Forces and Motion). Rather than trying to teach all of these concepts at one time, I choose to concentrate on scientific practice learning objectives and tailor the activities, discussions and assessment to match the objectives.
This series of lessons also provides opportunities to make connections to the Structure and Function cross cutting concept (CCC), which states: structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used. This CCC is most evident when students use engineering practices to design a water slide that uses materials based on their appropriate properties.
The Wild Water Slide series of lessons is a scientific inquiry and engineering design investigation that including lessons taught over the span of 1 week. To help manage the magnitude of this activity, you will find the project split into 3 parts.
- Part 1 includes the ENGAGE and EXPLORE components of the lesson; Time: 1 - 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
- Part 2 includes the EXPLAIN and EXTEND components of the lesson; Time: 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
- Part 3 includes the EVALUATE component of the lesson. Time: 1 - 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block period.
In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, students view a video of some of the world's most exciting water slides: Top 10 Water Slides. Following the video, students "turn and talk" with a partner to share any water slide or amusement park stories. This quick strategy encourages students to verbalize their thoughts and prior experiences - this process works as a hook to engage students in the topic. After students share with their partners, I ask them:
So, why do people pay money and wait in line to ride a water slide?
After a minute of wait time, students share the ideas they have generated. Inevitably, students agree that "water slides are fun". Since "fun" is a generic term, I ask probing questions to generate a more precise operational definition of fun. Examples of questions that help this process are:
What makes a ride fun?
When you say fun, what does that look, sound, feel like?
In terms of what we have been studying (physics), what kinds of scientific vocabulary could you use to define "fun"?
Once we have defined "fun" in terms of the physics concepts we are studying (speed, velocity , motion, acceleration, force and friction), students are ready to hear about how much fun we are going to have when we design, build and test our very own wild water slides!
The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore the scientific inquiry and engineering design process, use the Wild Water Slide Engineering Design Plan to introduce the design challenge:
Create a “wild water slide” using five materials that will transport passengers from the top to the bottom.
Additionally, we discuss that we will use our completed water slides to complete and experimental challenge:
Modify your “wild water slide” to transport passengers at a faster or slower speed.
To show students how the engineering design and experimental design processes work together, students review the Science Buddies Experimental Design and Engineering Process Example Flowcharts that I copied for them on page 4 of the Wild Water Slide Engineering Design Plan. These flowcharts show a visual example and reminder of possible steps they will follow during the planning, testing and communication phases of the Wild Water Slide project.
To start, students begin to work in groups to think about and record the group's ideas about the engineering design process in Part 1 of the investigation (Plan):
1. Define the Problem: What is the problem we are trying to solve?
2. Background Research: Is there any information we need to know to proceed? If yes, write your information.
3. Specify Requirements: What are the requirements or limitations of this problem?
4. Brainstorm, Evaluate and Choose Solution: What do we want to do to solve the problem?
5. Develop and Prototype Solution: Draw a detailed diagram of your water slide.
6. Name/Theme of Slide: What should our slide be called? Will it have a theme?
Allow students time to research, discuss, draw and write their ideas in the group's graphic organizer without intervention. During this time, I work the room to clarify what each step means and monitor groups for being on task. The urge to rush through planning and start building is a real challenge during this part of the investigation. For a strategy to help nurture the joy and creativity of building while reining in the desire to build without planning, view the reflection for this section: Managing Materials in the Design-Build Process.
As is evident by the repetitive and simplistic responses in the Wild Water Slide Student Work Design Plan, student groups need guidance when working through the engineering design process. A strategy to manage this student need will be discussed in the EXPLAIN part of the lesson in Part 2.
Part 2 includes the EXPLAIN and EXTEND components of the lesson; Time: 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.