Engineering Solutions

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SWBAT design a solution to a human problem by mimicking the external features of birds.

Big Idea

Want to waste your money? Try a claw machine! They seem engineered *not* to pick up a prize. Today, student engineers mimic bird feet to design a claw that actually let's you win!

Field Guide (Instructional Notes)

In this lesson, we continue unpacking NGSS standard 1-LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.  

Wow!  That's a complicated standard!  I have been laying the groundwork throughout this unit for students to understand how external parts help animals (birds) meet their needs.  But the crux of this standard is engineering.  Students, like engineers, design a solution to a human problem. To meet the standard, students must define the human problem and then plan a solution that includes labeling the materials needed for their design.  In this unit, the NGSS standard does not ask for students to actually build or create the product.  This is great because it will really help us concentrate on the first few steps of the process, and it also allows greater creativity when there are no bounds on making it actually come to fruition!

In a prior lesson, I introduced the concept of engineering and how engineers use science to help them solve problems.  Together, we walked through the beginning stages of the Engineering Design Process.  This lesson also walks through the first few steps of the Engineering Design Process--ask a question, imagine, and plan.  To increase the rigor from the prior lesson and gradually release the skills, we will only define the problem in a shared learning setting.  Students will then work in collaborative groups to imagine and draw their plan.

Take-off (Warm-up)

5 minutes

I begin by connecting to student schema (background knowledge) about claw machines.  I share my personal stories of arcades and those oh-so-close claw machine tries.  Then, students discuss and share their own experiences.

Next, I show a video of some frustrating claw machine losses.

Finally, I set the purpose for today's lesson.

Boys and girls, claw machines like this are a problem!  Who do we know who solves problems?  (engineers)  Today, let's use our knowledge of science to engineer a solution by making a claw machine that can actually pick something up!

Soaring to New Heights (Exploration)

20 minutes

First, I review the Engineering Design Process graphic.  I created this graphic with visual clues to help primary students remember the steps more easily.  

I point to the center, which says, "Engineers solve problems."  

Friends, who can state the problem we are trying to solve in your own words?  Right, claw machines don't actually pick items up.

Then, I point to the "Ask a question" circle on the Engineering Design graphic.  Our question today is, "How can we mimic (or imitate) birds to help us design a better claw machine?"  I post this question on my whiteboard.  I am not sure if I want to limit students to mimicking only birds' feet; I am thinking that some students may choose to mimic beaks again, which is also a creative solution.

The next two steps in the process, imagining the possibilities and drawing a plan, are going to be done in collaborative groups.  Before I release students to this task, though, I need to explain my expectations and also establish our criteria for success.  

Today you will be working in groups of 3 or 4 to design a better claw machine.  Each group will have a copy of the Engineering Design Process.  What step will you complete first in your group?  (Imagine the possibilities / brainstorming ideas)  This will include a lot of discussion.  How can we be sure that we are all sharing ideas?  (We can take turns, go around in a circle, listen to one another's ideas before sharing our own ideas.)  I will also give each group a copy of the question, "How can we mimic (or imitate) birds to help us design a better claw machine?" 

Next, I want students to set up a rubric for their design plan.  I have more of a student-led-classroom style; however, you can also provide a rubric for them.  

After you have your ideas and pick the best one, what comes next?  (I point to the graphic to lead them and provide a visual reminder that this is our guide.)  Right, draw a plan.  How will you know if you are being successful today?  What do you think your plan should include? (a diagram, labels of the materials, a sentence telling the bird we are mimicking and how it will solve the problem)

The most important aspect of this design is that it mimics a bird, so I put 2 stars next to this part of the rubric.  I want students to explicitly state how their design mimics a bird.  This addresses the Science Practice of engaging in argument based on evidence-- this solution will work because it has the ____ feature found on ____ bird.

Here's a video clip showing what my classroom looks like while students work!

I create a checklist on the whiteboard as students share ideas.  Since the whiteboard is a large display, it will be visible to all groups.  At this time in the year, I am still training students to make sure they check the rubric.  So, as I am circulating, I will ask them to double-check the screen and make sure they have all of the parts.  I will have students draw their plans in the science journals.  (I use marble composition notebooks, but plain paper works great too!  Tip: Have extra paper on hand in case of mistakes or changes in design plans!)

Science, unlike many other content areas, does not require homogeneous or heterogeneous groupings for success.  Today, I will ask which students want to mimic particular birds.  I will group students according to others who want to work with similar attributes of a bird's feet.

Also, since we completed a prior engineering lesson, I will use informal observations from that lesson to help decide today's groups.  If necessary, teachers can lead a small group who need more scaffolded support.

Note: In an adaptation of this lesson, I had students in groups according to the bird(s) they chose to mimic; however, all students drew their own plan.  Being in a group allowed them to share ideas and justifications, and drawing individually allowed them to all have experience making a plan.

Check out these video clips from when I was circulating and checking in.  Students were able to defend their reasoning and design, which are Science and Engineering Practices!

Landing (Closing)

5 minutes

I play a transition song.  During the song, children clean up their materials and return to the rug.  If time allows, I have each group share their solutions.  If not, I hold them until the next lesson.  It is pivotal that we not only assess the viability of the design, but also that we assess whether groups met the rubric criteria.  Especially at the beginning of the year, I am training students to self-assess by using the rubric.  Sharing is also essential because it allows students to reflect and see how they can improve their own work by incorporating ideas of a classmate.

After each group shares, I ask clarifying questions as necessary, "Which bird part were you imitating?  Why did you choose the _____'s feet?  What materials will you use in your design?"

Then, I ask each group to give themselves a thumbs-up or thumbs-middle as to how well they worked together.  I ask what worked and what did not work in each group.  Was one person drowning out everyone else?  Was someone not sharing even when asked?  How did they decide who made the drawing or did the writing?  I do this to help set up success during future group work.

Finally, I go through the rubric checklist and ask the class to help me decide if each part was present in the work.  If not, I ask for suggestions to help the group improve their work.  I really feel like these conversations are pivotal in creating a classroom atmosphere of collaboration and continuous improvement.

During the group work, sharing, and reflection pieces, I am on the lookout for students who are struggling with particular steps in the process.  I want to make sure I pair them in the final design challenge with peers who can support them and help them grow in particular areas.