Learning About Geotechnical Engineering Through Literature

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Students identify a real life problem and how it is solved through geotechnical engineering.

Big Idea

In this literature study, students travel to a community situated on the Karnali River. This river creates a need for an engineering solution to a serious problem!

Introducing Nepal

15 minutes

I chose this wonderful piece of literature to introduce the concept of geotechnical engineering. Suman Crosses the Karnali River by the Engineering is Elementary Team from the Museum of Science in Boston. To get my students acquainted with Nepal, I opened up my Nepal SB File to the first page. I asked them if they thought about places where extreme weathering affects the lives of others that they have to make adjustments and adapt their lives. They shared their knowledge about floods and landslides and asked if an earthquake changes a landscape? I explained that often in the cases of landslides and floods, like what is currently going on in Washington, weathering has already played a role and the structure finally gives way during an extreme flow of water reminding them of what they learned about how weathering is always happening. I asked if they now understand the causes from studying weathering and how that has affected the way they think about news reports about floods? They responded that the knowledge has helped them understand why it occurs.

We moved to the second page of the SB file to wonder about Kathmandu and continued by looking at the flag, the children and the map. I explained that I was taking them on a journey through a boy named Suman and that we would be sharing the read through volunteers. I seated them around me on the floor and placed two chairs beside mine to prepare for the teacher/group read.

Understanding Weathering Problems Through Literature

45 minutes

I turned to the last page of the SB file to discuss some Nepali words in order for them to understand the language that would be presented. We pronounced the words together and then began discussing a little bit about Namaste, connecting it to Yoga.

I began by reading the first chapter of the book by myself, stopping to explain how Suman's life is drastically different from ours. I asked them how many have a dirt floor in their bedroom? I wanted to know if a river got in the way of getting to the hospital? I wanted to know if their medical clinic had a "thatched roof?" Suddenly, they started to process that Nepal is real, the people could be real, and that the setting is real. They started to realize that their world was very different and that Suman has very different needs.

I then asked if they would like to help me read by taking turns being certain characters. We discussed that Suman was telling the story, so whoever played the role of Suman, would have a lot to read. 

Creative Whole Class Read: Students took turns playing the parts. One interesting discussion was about the American teacher and we talked about how teachers travel to other countries to be teachers in remote areas like Anna Miss. We also talked about the way her title followed her name. As the chapter progressed, we discussed her role in the community and what the community was like. 

Reading Strategies Mixed With Science: As we read together and defined the problem and the need for technology to solve it, students started to see how science was what would be the key to solving the problem. We discussed the engineering process and that it was important to consider each step as we solved problems. It opened up a new way of thinking about technology for my students as we discussed how David Mister defined "technologies"on page 18 for Suman. I really delved into this discussion about technology because most of them defined it as an iPad, TV or Smart Board. It was the first time they had considered that anything used to solve a problem for a person is a technology!

Understanding Engineering:The next chapter crossed the line of understanding how new technologies also create disagreements between generations. This led into discussion about how grandparents and some parents feel about our use of our iPads. I asked them why they thought Buwa was set against considering a different site for the TarPul?  It took some time for them to really connect their understanding of how this community viewed their elders.This rich discussion about community and the conflict of technology vs. tradition will help support science understanding further! 

Wrapping up: I pressed on to finish the book as we looked at pictures and connected a community need in our own community that would involve geotechnical engineering. We talked about how science and technology was essential to solving a serious transportation problem for this small community and that the same things would determine the best place to erect a new town hall in our own community. 

As we concluded the book, we finished our discussion about how Suman was part of solving a community problem. They thought that it was interesting how he was included and that they could not imagine being included in the discussion about our new town hall.

Understanding The River Flow & Thinking Through It

15 minutes

In order for my students to completely understand the river bend concept and how the landscape changes I used this video for visual support. We discussed the word "meander" and how it can be a verb or a noun. When we were done viewing this conceptual video, I told them that I wanted them to create a map/drawing of a river, including meanders. I wanted them to draw a bridge ( they are more familiar with bridges) that would be placed in the proper spot along the river with the assumption that the soil would anchor the bridge securely. I assigned this because I wanted them to show me that they understood that the bridge should not be placed on the meander. Students began to design their maps and enjoyed talking about the book. 

I passed out their Suman Crosses the Karnali River worksheet assignment as they worked and read the questions as we casually discussed answers to each one. We talked about how we enjoyed the book, even though we thought that having a copy for each of us would be a better idea. As they finished their drawings, they began to write the answers to the questions. I assigned them to finish at home telling them that they needed to be in complete sentences and well written answers.