Those Darn Squirrels!-- Brainstorming Ideas

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SWBAT use the engineering design process to brainstorm a solution to a problem.

Big Idea

We can learn about the engineering design process in a fun and entertaining way by reading a book about imaginative squirrels! Your kiddos will go nutty over the engineering design process!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

To practice what they have learned about the engineering design process, I read part of a hilarious story called “Those Darn Squirrels!” (This book had my class laughing out loud!) I have my children try to solve the main character’s problem by using the first steps of the engineering design process.  They brainstorm 4 ideas and then choose their best one.  


Material List

*book Those Darn Squirrels!  By Adam Rubin
  • If you do not have the book, you can watch it on YouTube (see link)
  • (You may choose from 2 different sizes.  The smaller set can be used on the Smartboard. The bigger set is for you to make posters for your room.) 


Book Summary

Old Man Fookwire is a grump. The only thing he really likes is painting pictures of the birds that visit his little old house near the forest. When the times comes for the birds to fly south for the winter, Old Man Fookwire hatches a plan to keep them close by: He builds birdfeeders and fills them with yummy seeds and berries in the hopes that his beautiful birds will stick around. But the squirrels come and eat the seed.  So Fookwire improves and changes his birdfeeders.  But the squirrels devise a plan of their own and still end up eating the seed.  In the end, the squirrels try to make friends and the old man realizes they aren’t so bad.




15 minutes

 First I review the 8 steps in the engineering design process ( Engineering Design Process Cards full size version) that we learned from a previous lesson.  I hold up the cards and review the information by asking questions about it.  

After, I tell the children, “We are going to be engineers and practice the first SIX steps in the engineering process.  In the book Those Darn Squirrels, the main character,  Mr. Fookwire, AND the squirrels each have a problem.  I would like to challenge you to be detectives and see if you can find the parts where the characters use the engineering design process and what steps they use.”

As soon as I said the word challenge, I could see some children’s bodies straighten up and intently listen.  Everyone loves a fun challenge!  They start giggling just looking at the cover. A girl comments on how cute the squirrels are…and of course, how weird his nose is! I can feel the excitement building.

Then I read the book Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin STOPPING on page 16.

Note:  If you prefer, there is a link for a video on YouTube with a delightful person reading the story.



30 minutes

As a first step to devising their plan I give the students a sheet titled Those Darn Squirrels! Define, Research, Specify workpage.

 I say, “On this sheet you need to define the problem in the story.”  Then I ask the children “What is the problem to be solved?” They answer almost unanimously, “The squirrels keep eating Old Man Fookwire’s seed that he has out for the squirrels!”

Since this is their first time completing this process, I work with my class and help them as needed.  I like to discuss their answers and then write their collective answer on the board for everyone to copy.

As a class, we Google "squirrel proof feeders."  I ask them to think about what would make a birdfeeder squirrel proof.  We write down things such as using a baffle, perches that close the feeder because of weight, smaller hole, etc.  We discuss the design of these structures and what makes them effective, such as a baffle's diameter is large which prevents a squirrel from getting around it.  Or the feeder that closes when the weight is heavy must have a device that can tell the general weight of the critter.  Additionally, how a smaller hole would prevent the squirrel from getting into it because it is larger.  Discussing the design and function helps the children understand the cross-cutting standard--the shape and stability of structure of natural and designed objects are related to their functions.

The next section on the worksheet is where we would write down specific requirements of the project, such as height, weight and length.  I created this worksheet so it could be used with other projects. But in this case, the bottom boxes will not be filled in since there is not any specific requirements given. 

Next I have the children work by themselves to fill out the worksheet titled “Those Darn Squirrels! Brainstorm workpage and sample.” At this point I want each child to explore the possibilities and work on their own.  I feel this is how creativity is developed.  Each child gets to explore what they think will work without any judgements.  On this page they brainstorm their ideas that would help solve a problem.  I have them try to brainstorm 4 ideas, although it is acceptable to not fill in all of the boxes.  If they are having trouble coming up with their own ideas, I try to encourage them to think about the ideas we found on the internet, such as a baffle.  Then we review how the baffle is designed that makes it effective.   We discuss what they could design that would use that same principal--something big and wide that would deter our pesky friends.

I tell them, ”When you are finished you need to look at each of your ideas and imagine how each would solve the problem. Use your imagination to try to get a “movie” in your mind of how each feeder works.  Can you actually see this idea working?  Does it have some drawbacks or problems?  Is there a way to make it work better?  Is there an idea that you have written down that clearly works better? Circle that idea using a red crayon so it stands out easily.”  



10 minutes

I have the children share their ideas with their partner as I walk around the classroom listening to their conversations.  Each student needs to evaluate their own designs to see which one would be the most feasible for this challenge.  In addition, they are learning to use sketches to represent a design solution.  They should be able to create a constructive argument with reasons of why they chose that design as the best.  This is a basic framework for having the children engage in argument from evidence.

When I am listening to their conversations, the main thing I am looking for is if they can construct an argument of why their chosen design would work the best.  Also they need to have attempted to solve the problem.  In this video, the girl seemed to lose sight of the challenge itself and thought too much about how pretty the feeder should be.  When questioned, I tried to bring her thinking back to the original challenge of designing a bird feeder that would keep the squirrels out.  Here is a video of students explaining their best bird feeder designs and giving reasons to support their choice.

I end the lesson by reviewing what the word brainstorming means.

Ok kiddos, today we learned how to brainstorm.  What did we do when we brainstormed?  

I elicit their responses.  

Yes, when we brainstormed ideas it was like our brain was raining lots of ideas down.  We allowed ourselves to write down ideas as soon as they came to our brain. I brainstorm ideas when I do my creating. Remember that many ideas gives you lots of options for choosing your design.

I collect their work for the day and check to see if they have the main idea of the lesson.  They should have down at least one viable idea that could possibly deter a squirrel.