Improving Our Vanilla Plant Pollinators

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Using the results from testing, the SWBAT make improvements on a design to make it more effective and/or studier.

Big Idea

Engineers learn from their mistakes to make improvements on their designs to make them even better!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

This lesson is part of a series of lessons on using the engineering design process to solve a problem.  In the Ice Scream, You Scream We All Scream for Vanilla Ice Cream, the students were challenged to create a vanilla flower pollinator.  They defined the problem, researched, got the specs and brainstormed a  plan for this challenge.  In the second part, Two Scoops Are Better Than One, students worked with a partner to choose, then develop their plan for their vanilla plant pollinator.  In Building and Testing Our Vanilla Pollinators, the children built their pollinators according to their plans.  They measured their pollinators.  Then as a group, we tested out their designs to check their effectiveness.  The students recorded their data.

In THIS LESSON the students analyze their data to figure out if their pollinator was effective or not and how well  constructed it was.  They use that information to make improvements.  Then they improve their designs and repeat the tests to see if their pollinators were more effective and/or studier.  Their ideas are then written down on a workpage. 

NGSS Connections

As a culmination of the unit on interdependency, this lesson incorporates many of the NGSS standards and engineering practices. In the NGSS, the children must develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal pollinating plants.  The children will be building upon prior knowledge of pollinators and the pollination process to help them create their plan for their model of a pollinator. In this challenge they will also realize that the shape of the object also relates to the function of their design.  And of  course, it will relate to the standard of plants and animals depending upon one another. 

This lesson is a culmination of many of the engineering design standards.  In previous lessons, the students defined the problem, researched, got the specs, brainstormed, developed a design, built and tested their model.  They will analyze their data to recognize where improvements could be made.  Then in the final step in the process, they will improve their own design and then retest.



Vanilla Pollinator's Engineer's Notebook recording sheet--1 copy per student

The same materials from previous lessons:

  •  their completed testing paper, their created pollinator
  • Pile of Materials--Ready For Action! --craft pom poms of various sizes, cotton balls, cotton swabs (cut in half--I wanted them to be challenged), sticky dots, toothpicks, straws, aluminum foil, wires, wooden beads, popsicle sticks, tape, pipe cleaners, newspaper, and anything else you can think would work well!
  • 1 tray per student pair (to put their "shopping" supplies in--see next section for an explanation).  I use the black trays from microwaveable meals. 
  • small funnel for putting "pollen" into the test tube
  • 1/8 c. flour for the "pollen"-- this will give you more than you need
  • 1/8 teaspoon (1/4 t. would be fine, too)
  • model vanilla flowers--see previous lesson; 1 per partner group
  • Pollination Testing Paper for testing how much pollen was carried by the pollinators; I made it by glueing a flower shape onto a 6" x 10" black foamboard for durability but construction paper would work fine, too.
  • aprons and soda hats (totally optional but fun).  Since they are part of Ben and Jerry's workforce, I added this for fun.  They kiddos loved it, but it is not necessary!  I bought mine off of



10 minutes

I call the children to the front area.  We briefly review what was accomplished yesterday.  Then we talk about one of my very favorite historical figures, Thomas Edison.

How many people have ever heard of Thomas Edison?  His most famous invention was the light bulb.  Guess how many trials who took before he found the right substance to put inside the lightbulb to keep it burning?  1600!  That's right, he tried over 1600 different types of items in his design until he got it right.  Today, you are also going to get a chance to improve your design, just like Thomas Edison did.  OK, not anywhere near 1600, but you will get a second chance to make improvements on your design.

Before we start, I think we need some inspiration.  Did you know there are many popular items that we use each and every day that were invented because their first design didn't turn out right?  Let's watch this presentation to find out about them and learn how our mistakes or trials can actually be very valuable.

 Then we watch the power point--Things Invented from a Mistake.


10 minutes

I have the children return to their seats for a short discussion.

Just like Thomas Edison and the other inventors in our presentation, we are going to work on improving our designs.  How could you tell if your designs were effective?  What did you learn from your trials yesterday?

We discuss the results of their tests, and how those results help guide our improvements.  The goal is for them to analyze data from tests of their pollinator to determine if it works as they intended.

 I have the children pull out their testing sheets from yesterday's lesson.  

When thinking about what worked and didn't work with your pollinator, what changes do you think need to be made?  

The kiddos go back through their results and talk about what worked and didn't work.  We talk about what kinds of things constitutes it being ineffective/effective or poorly constructed/well constructed. 

Based on your findings, what kind of changes did you indicate you were going to make today?

I want the children to analyze their findings and make changes based on the results.  I want them to gather information needed to make improvements needed on their designs.


10 minutes

After the children have decided which improvements they are going to make, we repeat the process of them coming up to the table, choosing their supplies, and then working on improving their pollinators.

I give them another time limit--15 minutes.  I like having them work with some constraints since it teaches them that any sort of work job has some limitations that they need to take into consideration.  They should easily be able to accomplish this task within those parameters. 


15 minutes

After they have made the proposed changes to their pollinators, we repeat the process from yesterday of testing their pollinators.  Then the children use a crayon to make show changes on their testing sheet. We use crayon since they used pencil the first time and I want them to see the results of their changes (see sample).

I lead them through the process of identifying their strengths and weaknesses on the workpage titled Vanilla Pollinator's Engineer's Notebook.

The first question asks you what type of improvements did you make on your pollinator?  Under it are two choices--construction or effectiveness.

So you would circle construction if you did something to your model in some way to make it studier, stronger or stay together better.  Can you think of any ways that would show an improvement in construction?  

We go over and discuss ways kids improved in the construction, such as wrapping pipecleaners around it so it stays together better or adding a popsicle stick to it so it is sturdier.  I am always trying to get them to think about the shape and structure of design and how that influences its function.

A child raises his hand and asked what I thought about the aluminum foil that they added.  So I turned the question around to him.

Why did you put this aluminum foil here?

I just added something to make it pretty, since we had a little extra.

Did the aluminum foil make it work better in some way?

No.  So I guess it does not improve on construction or effectiveness.

You're right.  If you did something like add a handle to it, you would be improving construction since you are making it work better.  Adding something to make it look better does not make it work better.

I am trying to get them to think like an engineer.  Engineers need to figure out what they need to improve and figure out how to make those improvements.  This is just the first step to help them figure it all out.

If you tried to make it more effective, that means that you tried your very best to try to make it pick up more pollen than it did last time. If you tried to make it more effective, circle the word effectiveness.  Some people added more pom poms what do you think they were trying to do?  They were trying to pick up more pollen.  So they would be trying to make it more effective.  If you somehow changed the bottom of it by adding things to it you were probably making it pick up more pollen so you were making it more effective.  

We added little clips to help us hold onto it better.  What would that be?

What was the purpose of adding the clips?  What were you tying to accomplish?

We were trying to get more pollen, so we were making it more effective, right?

One group that had scrapped the first one asked for confirmation that they improved on both. I had them circle both construction and effectiveness.

The next part asked you what did you try to do to improve your vanilla pollinator? Write your ideas down in a complete sentence.  You should start with the word "We."

I give them a few minutes to write down their answers.

Let's look at the next sentence. Let's read the words together. Were your improvements successful?  Explain.  The sentence frame says "We could tell our improvements were ___________________ ."  You either put successful or not successful to fill in the blank.  

Then on the next line you need to finish that sentence telling why because.......  You need to tell what happened that showed you it was more successful. What are some ways that we could tell that your pollinator was successful?  Were you able to hold onto it better, was it able to pick up more pollen, what type of things happened?  

It picked up more pollen.  It stayed together this time.

One girl put "yes" in the blank.  I had her orally read her sentence to see if it made sense.  She started laughing when she got to the word yes, since it didn't make sense. Having the children read through what they have written helps them to see their own mistakes.

I see Caleb wrote down that his team's improvements were not successful. I know that scientists, engineers, teachers or kids like you learn so much from things that don't work. You learn just as much valuable information when things don't work out and then you try to work to make it better. The fact that Caleb's didn't work yesterday is forcing him to think of new ideas and expand his thinking. He is learning new information that he is probably never going to forget. And I told you too that my favorite inventor took over 1600 tries to invent the lightbulb.  He just kept trying all sorts of new things to make it better and better and better. So his inventions certainly did not work out the first time, or the second, or the tenth, the hundredth or even the thousandth time.  He learned something new each time that helped him make improvements. So don't feel bad if your pollinator didn't work after the second time.  You still have 1598 more times to catch up to the greatest inventor of all time.  That's OK.  That's how we all learn.  

I am trying to get them to understand that engineers take more than one or two times to develop and idea that works.  Many times children think that if you don't get it right the first time, that you have failed.  

I walk around checking their progress and asking questions.  This questions is asking you HOW you could tell if it is more successful. 

Let's look at another person's ideas. Listen to how much she learned even though things did not work out.  "We could tell our improvements were not successful because we did not get as much pollen on our pollinator as last time.  Excellent!  She had learned something very valuable.  Yeah, hers didn't work out, oh well.  If we did this for a third time, or a fourth or a fifth time I bet she would improve it until it worked really well. 

I walk around again checking that they are understanding the process and answering questions.  For the first question, I expected them to tell what improvements they made.  In the second question they should have explained how they could tell it was successful. This first sample simply explains that they could tell it was successful since it gathered more pollen.  The second sample explains why they could tell it was not successful.  The third sample shows a girl who made improvements on construction that was effective and she was able to make her point.  The last sample does not quite make a clear connection between the pollinator being more successful because of the improvements.


15 minutes

For the next step, my students share their pollinators and tell the class what they did to improve it.  I use this vanilla pollinator rubric to evaluate their understanding of the task.

Next you will see some video clips from when my class was presenting their pollinators.  The first video clip shows a group that was disappointed since their second version of their pollinator did not produce any improvements.  I could see the disappointment in their eyes, but watch how the boy cheers up when I tell him the part about Edison trying 1600 times.  After all, if Edison takes more than two times, why can't they?

The next video clip shows two girls who made their pollinator stronger.  The last video clip shows two boys who improved their pollinator by adding more pom poms, but also made it longer, a feature that did not make any improvements.

We end the session by celebrating everyone's success in creating their own pollinator and then improving on their own design. They did a great job and have learned so much in this unit!