Throughout this unit, students have learned about the function of plant parts through observation, texts, and videos. Before the advent of the NGSS standards, many teachers would finish the unit at this point.
However, let's look closely at the NGSS Life Sciences standard for Structure, Function, and Information Processing:
1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
Understanding the parts and their interrelationships is actually just the first step! The standards then move towards a culminating engineering design. Let's break it down a bit further. First, we need a human problem to solve. I designed this unit with the text Jack and the Beanstalk it because it provides a human problem based on the question, "How can humans safely climb trees or rocks?"
In my initial brainstorming before the unit, I tried to relate plant parts to safety equipment. For example, the seed coats are similar to helmets and vine tendrils are similar to ropes. As I researched more deeply into what type of equipment it takes to climb (this is not how I normally spend my weekends!), there are even more options. Can you think of some plant parts that you could mimic for shoe spikes? How about a harness? Although ultimately my students will choose the equipment and plant parts to mimic, it is important as the teacher to have a few ideas in your bag of tricks. These ideas become suggestions you can offer, and if your students are anything like mine, they'll take the ideas and run with them!
I start off all Engineering Design lessons by reviewing the Engineering Design Process. I created this graphic as a visual showing the cyclical process of design. There are clip art icons with each step in the process, which supports my developing readers. Since I teach this unit in the Spring, my students are quite familiar with the graphic. If this is the first time you have taught engineering, consider adding an introductory lesson like this one.
Friends, what do we know about what engineers do? (They solve problems.) Where does the process normally begin? (Ask a question.)
Let's think back to our friend Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk. Was he safe when he climbed the beanstalk? (No!!!!) I wonder how he didn't fall! (I add a note of incredulity to my tone here, for dramatic effect!)
The story got me wondering, can we design safety equipment for Jack? And, can we mimic the external parts of plants to design the safety equipment?
Next, I write the objective with students and we break down the language of the objective. I chose to create this anchor chart on my easel because it is more intimate for students and I to engage on discussion when I am seated at the rug with them.
First, I write our problem on the anchor chart. Then, I write a T-chart with the headings "Equipment" and "Plant Parts to Mimic." Today's discussion includes watching a video to build background knowledge of actual climbing equipment, and then a brainstorming session.
My students have a marbled composition notebook specifically for science. Most, if not all, choose to take notes along with our shared writing. Then, they have both the anchor chart to refer to when designing, or their notes as a reference.
I ask students what kind of equipment a tree (or vine) climber might need. This quick question helps me assess any prior knowledge and also leads them to see that we will need a little research to help guide our designs.
Next, we research tree-climbing gear watching a video from the Illinois tree-climbing championship. I show this video to engage students with the content.
Since this video is short, the first time through we watch it for the WOW-factor. Then, I set the purpose for watching, "As we watch a second time, let's pause it periodically. If you see some safety equipment, we'll write it here on the left side of the T-chart." On the left column of the T-chart, I write the heading, "Safety equipment." Note: Many teachers choose to create anchor charts such as this T-chart before the lesson. It's personal preference! Because it is my goal to have a student-centered classroom, I like students to create the charts right along with me.
As we watch the second time, I pause so students can identify the different types of equipment climbers need.
Then, I say, "Jack did not have the money to buy safety equipment, and plus it probably wasn't invented yet. Jack would have needed to use materials around him-- like parts of the bean stalk-- to make his own gear. Next, let's brainstorm about which external parts of plants might work when designing each piece of equipment."
On the right side of the T-chart, I write the heading, "External Plant Parts." Now I have students turn-and-talk to think about which plant parts might be useful. After peer discussion, students raise their hands to share ideas. Speaking and listening are critical skills to develop, and this method of sharing practices both! When students share, I follow-up with questions like:
These questions make students defend their responses and think more deeply.
Finally, I direct students back to the Engineering Design Process graphic.
Friends, today we have asked a question and brainstormed possibilities. What is the next step? (Pick the best idea.)
I tell students that they should pick what they think is the best idea. Then, I show the initial idea worksheet. I model picking an idea, drawing the idea, and writing to tell why it is the best idea.
While children work, I circulate and check in with students to hear about their designs. It's always amazing to me when students think outside the box of our discussion and explains their ideas.
Students go back to their seats to work. Work-time in my classroom is often collaborative, and students may choose to discuss ideas with partners or even move around the room to a more comfortable spot.
While students work, I first assist my developing writers and scribe if necessary. If your classroom has ESOL students, they too often can use help verbalizing their thinking.
When work-time ends, I ask students to reflect on the question, "How were we engineers today?" This brings them back to the Science and Engineering Practices.
There were so many great examples of student creativity and choice with mimicking different external features of plants that I had difficulty only sharing a few! Here are about half of my class's designs!