This lesson is a great mix of media, student large and small group discussion, participation at the board, and hands-on work linking student prior knowledge and experiences with the scientific method to engineering design practices. One of my intentional goals in our class is to have the students actively engaged in comparisons as often as possible and this lesson does that. I find that doing so builds vocabulary comprehension quickly and prompts deeper level questioning and analysis conversations that we can build from throughout the year. Now that we are moving into the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards and including engineering concepts into our curriculum, it feels important to me to start building new engineering knowledge using our related scientific methodology knowledge as our entry point to a broader understanding of the connections between all types of scientific research processes.
The flow of the room is busy but relaxed. I also find that I can refer back to the bridge-building activity throughout this unit and students instantly connect and respond. I can't wait to hear about your experiences using and expanding upon this great starter activity!
2. Tell the class that you'd like to shift the conversation to include engineering practices. Ask the class, "What do you think of when you hear the word engineering?" and use the spokesperson protocol to collect input and generate a class list on the board.
3. Pass out the Inventeens handout and show the ten minute Inventeens clip produced by the Boston Museum of Science.
4. Ask students to discuss the handout prompt with their groups and use the spokesperson protocol to initiate a class discussion.
5. Tell student groups to take a few minutes to compare and contrast the scientific method and engineering design. Request that one student from each group then come up and fill in a Venn diagram you have drawn on the board.
6. Use the class constructed Venn diagram to discuss commonalities and differences between the two methods of scientific exploration. Point out similarities/differences and ask for class feedback. Students will work with you to consolidate some of the phrases and to reject some erroneous ideas.
1. Announce to students that they will now work through the engineering design process in pairs. Tell them that you'd like for them to be thinking about the words we just emphasized and to see for themselves the similarities and differences between the scientific method and engineering practices.
2. Show the needed supplies for each pair of students: four dixie cups, at least 20 popsicle sticks, and one handout.
3. Keep announced directions for the activity at a minimum, the less words the better so that they can get to exploring and collaborating right away. The short version:
4. As the kids work, circulate and encourage any and all designs. Ask student groups to let you know when they've come up with a design that works and emphasize that there are many designs that can work!
5. When groups call you over, congratulate them! Comment on a specific aspect of their bridge and/or ask them to tell you more about their thinking/design planning.
6. As individual pairs call you over eagerly to show you they have met the challenge and after you have praised their work and asked them about their process, give them a second challenge: imagine each stick is worth $1000 and you, the designer want to see if they can reduce the overall price of the bridge.
7. When student groups call you back over to see their revised bridges, comment upon the iterative design process and bring the focus back to the terminology and concepts listed on the Venn diagram.
This year, I tried a slightly different design activity based upon the marshmallow challenge. After students completed their challenge and we measured and admired each group design, we viewed the short video clip about how business people, architects, engineers, administrative assistants, and kindergarteners compared to our results. The video is a great way of getting into the idea of prototyping, creativity, group dynamics, and cooperation. The kids and I loved the experience and the discussion we had after we completed the challenge and watched the video.
We also created a great class Venn diagram on the board to show the differences and similarities between scientific research and the engineering design process. We emphasized the iterative process and highlighted how many aspects of the two ways of thinking and doing science really are for scientists and engineers.