Team Plaid Pete Has the Blueprint for Success

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SWBAT plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered, to identify aspects of a model or a prototype that can be improved.

Big Idea

What are the characteristics needed to be a successful engineer? Students learn from Rosie Revere, and then work in collaborative teams to conduct fair tests and identify failure points for their water filter systems.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of Earth and Human Activity -  that human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space.  But individuals and communities are doing things to protect Earth's resources and environments. (5-ESS3-1); the Disciplinary Core Idea of Engineering Design - that possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints).  The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for a solution can be compared on the basis of how each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.  (3-5 ETS1-1); Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution.  Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.  (3-5 ETS1-2).  At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs. (3-5 ETS1-2); Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.  (3-5 ETS1-3); Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and constraints.  (3-5 ETS1-3); and the Crosscutting Concept of Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World  - People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies (3-5-ETS1-1), and Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, decrease known risks, and meet societal demands (3-5-ETS1-2).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 30 minutes.  While researching for this unit, I found the website for the Engineering Is Elementary Curriculum developed by the Museum of Science, Boston.  They had a unit titled, Water, Water Everywhere:  Designing Water Filters that heavily influenced my ideas about this unit.  

Materials Needed:

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (2013, New York, NY:  Abrams Books for Young Readers) available from

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Portfolio (handed out in a previous lesson)

One copy of WW II Airplane Blueprint (to project)

One copy of the design loop poster (used in a previous lesson)

One filter system for each team (2 liter pop bottle, cut in half with top inverted and bottom used as a stand) (Note:  See video for a visual of filter system set-up.  You will use the top of the bottle without the lid.)

Playground Sand

Aquarium Gravel

Screen Material - Cut into 4 inch squares

Cheesecloth - Cut into 4 inch Squares

Coffee Paper Filters

Cotton Balls

Graduated Cylinders - 1 per team

Timers - 1 per team

Vials - 1 per team and 5 additional for Water Clarity Samples

Small Tubs - 1 per team

Measuring Cups

Tape Measure - 1 per team

Ruler - 1 per team

"Contaminated Water" - 1 Liter of water to which dirt, mud, sand, and small rocks have been added.  


Focus & Motivation

20 minutes

Introduce Read A Loud

Rosie Revere, Engineer, (Andrea Beaty, 2013, New York, NY:  Abrams Books for Young Readers.) is a wonderful book about a young girl who dreams of being a great engineer, and comes to learn that failure is a part of the process.

I have gathered my students in our meeting area.  I tell my students, "Today, we will begin our Science time together with another picture book.  I have chosen to do this, rather than a scenario because I wanted to share this very special story with you."  I ask my engineers this question, "What characteristics does a person need to have to be a successful engineer?"  I tell them I will give them a minute or two of think time, and then I will ask them to turn and talk to their partner.  After students have had a few moments to share with their partners, I call on a few students to respond.

I tell my students, "Our main character, Rosie, has learned some important lessons by the end of this story about what it takes to be a successful engineer.  Listen carefully as I read because when I am finished, I would like to see if you can identify what she has learned. We will discuss these ideas so that they can help guide our work today."  

My students really listened to the message in this book, as you can see in this Video Clip.

Quick Discussion

After reading the story aloud, I then ask students to turn and talk with their partners. I am specifically listening for the following responses:  She learned that engineers have to revise and reviseShe learned that she had to keep on trying; She learned that her ideas got better when she shared them with somebody.

I tell students that all of these characteristics are important, but that Rosie's story illustrates one of the most important characteristics of successful engineers - They are able to work in teams to communicate their ideas, listen to feedback from others, and then use that feedback to make their ideas better.  I specifically point out the design loop that was introduced in Lesson 4 - Logan Explains the Engineering Design Process.

Finally, I ask students to think about the consequences of not using this type of "design loop."  I am specifically looking for responses that address safety concerns, product failure, and increased costs.  I then tell students that this is why the part of the process they will participate in today is so important.  If research and development teams do not work effectively, they can cost their companies millions of dollars, and even contribute to injury or death.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria for today's lesson:  

Learning Objective:  I can plan and carry out fair tests, in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Language Objective:  I can express my own ideas, and build on the ideas of others. [ELP.4-5.2]  (I am continuing to work on this language objective from the previous lesson).

Success Criteria:  I can collaboratively work with my team to construct and test a prototype water filter, conduct fair tests, identify and list failure points, and improve the design.

After sharing the learning objectives, I ask my students to return to their desks and get out their copies of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Brief.


25 minutes

Introduce Blueprint

I tell my students that today they will be choosing from among the three design ideas they created yesterday to construct a "blueprint."  I explain that a blueprint, is technical drawing, or model, of something that an engineer designs.  It specifies the materials that will be used, gives measurements, and provides an overall plan for the people who will do the construction.  I further explain that originally, there were no computers or copy machines, so these prototype designs were printed on a special paper that made copies.  The copy was blue, and the lines were white.  That is how they came to be known as "blueprints."  Today, most prototype designs are constructed on computers with the aid of computer programs, and are known simply as "prints."

I project a copy of the WW II Airplane Blueprint so that my students can see what an actual blueprint used to look like.  Since they will not be using a computer program today, I wanted them to see something that was closer to what they would be constructing.  I point out the different views, and the detail that includes measurements and labels.  I tell my students that their blue prints, while not as intricate as this drawing - should be very specific. They also need to carefully label all of the materials and include measurements.  They may choose to include a top view and a side view, but that they need to be aware of the time. They will need to finish Trial 1 today. 

I point out the space to construct the drawing, and then the Materials List at the bottom of Page 9.  I tell them, "You will need to include both the quantity, or amount of materials you will use in this space, as well as the cost of each.  Then, you will need to calculate the total cost and write it on the line.  Be sure to include the cost of your filter system.  I ask my students, "Where can you find the cost of your materials?"  I call on a student who correctly responds that these are located on Page 4 of the Design Portfolio."

I then tell my students to turn and talk to the person next to them, telling them what a blueprint is, and on what page of their design portfolios they will construct their blue print.  I randomly call on a student to answer.

Construct A Prototype

I tell my students that they will first need to look at the three ideas they created yesterday, and choose one idea to create as their prototype.  They need to look at each design today with "fresh eyes."  Before they even ask the question, I say, "Yes, you may modify one of the designs for your blueprint today, but it must be a collaborative process.  That means everyone needs to agree."  And before they ask the next question I say, "Before you ask me what do we do if everyone doesn't agree - I want to remind you that you will be conducting three different trials.  This means you will revise your prototype three times.  How does knowing that piece of information help you answer that question?"  I call on a student and they respond, "We could try one person's idea, and if that doesn't work, then we could use another person's idea on the next trial."  I respond that that might very well solve that problem.  

I explain, "Once you have constructed your blueprint, and listed all of your materials.  You will come to me and I will check your work.  If it has been completed correctly, I will give you the OK to collect your materials and construct your filter.  You will need to be sure that you follow your blueprint exactly.  After all, it doesn't make sense to have a plan if you don't use it.  I ask my students, "What information do you need to keep in mind to guide your process all along the way?"  I have to call on a few students before I get a correct response: "We need to pay attention to the design requirement and constraints."

I then ask my students to turn and talk to the person next to them, telling them what a prototype is and on what page of their design portfolios they will analyze their prototype.  I randomly call on a student to respond.

Construct Water Quality Scale

I ask my students to turn to Page 10 of their Design Portfolios.  I point out the first three prompts at the top of the page that are answered with a Yes or No response:  The filter meets the design requirements; The filter follows the design constraints; The prototype matches the blueprint.  I tell my students, "In order for your design to be an effective design, you must be able to answer Yes to all three of these prompts.  If you can't answer yes - then your design is basically flawed.  That means it will not work.  In fact, it would be a good idea to ask yourself those questions before you even begin to test your prototype - because I will be asking you those questions when you come to retrieve your materials."  I explain that the line that asks for the Total Cost of the filter should match the line on their blueprint.

Finally, I point out the section on Water Clarity.  I read the scale with students.  I ask my students, "How could we construct something to compare your water samples to so that they can be scored?"  I get no response.  I state, "Well if I had an exact sample of the water you will be filtering in this vial (I hold up one of the vials), then I could compare a sample after you filtered the water and see that they matched exactly.  That one would be easy, and it would represent #0 on the scale.  Then I could fill a vial with completely clear water and it would represent #4 on the scale.  Hmm . . . I am wondering if these percentages might help me figure out how to construct comparisons for the other numbers on the scale?"  I am able to get my students to see that I can construct a vial to show that 50% of the contaminants have been removed by filling one vial with half of the contaminated water, and half with clear water for the #2 scale.  From there we are able to construct the remaining vials to represent the other numbers on the scale (e.g. 3/4 a vial of contaminated water and 1/4 clear water for the #1 scale, 1/4 vial of contaminated water and 3/4 vial of clear water for the #3 scale.  I construct the scale as my students watch, and place the index cards with their corresponding numbers on the back table.

Discuss "Failure Points"

I tell my students, "One of the most important things I want you to take away from today's lesson is that engineers fail, and fail, and fail again - Just like Rosie did!  Some of the very best design ideas have come from previous design failures.  In the world of engineering design, fail is not a bad word.  Fail is a golden opportunity to make a design better.  At the bottom of page 10, you are asked to identify "failure points" in your design.  This is asking you to note the places where your design did not work.  It means you have to analyze the exact spots where a design idea was not effective.  This is important because oftentimes, an overall design idea would be a fantastic idea, with just one simple fix.  Students are sometimes tempted to throw out the whole idea because they get impatient or frustrated.  You are 5th Graders - that means when something doesn't work, take a deep breath and analyze the design carefully to find the spot, or spots where the design broke down.  You are primarily working to make sure your idea actually works - answering the question, "Is it functional?  Once the filter works, then you will be asked to improve one of two areas.  The first area is cost - can you make the filter work just as well for a reduced cost?  The second area you could choose to improve is clarity.  Can you improve the clarity of your filter?"

Discuss Fair Tests

I ask my students to remember back when we learned about controlled experiments and fair tests.  "Why did we change only one variable in our experiments at a time?"  I call on a student who correctly explains that if we changed more than one thing, we wouldn't know what caused our result.  I confirm that yes, just like an experiment, if more than one thing is changed in our water filter tests - results will be "confounded."  This means that there will be no clear idea about how those results were obtained.  I further explain that this is why after today's test, their team needs to pick one, and only one thing to change for Trial 2.  I have purposefully planned that we will only conduct one trial today.  This will allow a "checkpoint" so that we can discuss this all important concept of fair trials, should there be any issues.  I tell my teams to get ready to begin! 

Team Activity

45 minutes

Set the Task

I have given my teams a considerable amount of information.  They will need "Signposts" to guide them through this task.  I have posted the following directions on my whiteboard:

Step 1:  Collaboratively choose your design idea.

Step 2:  Draw your blueprint - everyone must have a blueprint of the prototype with measurements and labels.

Step 3:  Get my approval for your blueprint before you retrieve your materials.  Include a "job list" for your team.  Everyone must have a role!

Step 4:  Construct your prototype according to the blueprint - ask yourself the  3 prompts at the top of Page 10 of your Design Portfolio (Because I will!).

Step 5:  Run Trial 1, using 100mL of water and a timer.

Step 6:  Answer the Prompts on Page 10 of your Design Portfolio.

Step 7:  Clean-up - WARNING!  Even though water may be filtered and look clean - it has not been disinfected and is not safe for drinking!

Once I have read through the directions, I give teams the go ahead to get busy!  I make sure to emphasize the fact that despite the clarity of the water that is filtered - it is not safe for drinking because it has not been disinfected!  

The support provided in the directions allows for teams to work at their own pace, with me acting as the overall director.  However, I can see that there are some teams who are getting caught up in the excitement of "building stuff" and I have to be there to redirect them, pointing them back the the checkpoints in their design portfolios, so that they follow the process, as seen in this Video Clip.  This is particularly important for this first Trial, as they will get develop bad habits and will circumvent the process for the rest of the project.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Set the Stage

After teams have cleaned up, I ask team leaders to check Design Portfolios and ensure that their teams have completed their tasks.  I provide small yellow Post-It Notes for students to tag any pages that need to be finished.  This serves as a reminder for them, as some of my students have significant problems with attention and task completion.  I ask team leaders to collect the Design Portfolios so that I may look them over before tomorrow's lesson.  

I will be specifically looking for the following:

Is there consistency between the blueprint and the design?  I have taken a photograph of each team's design to compare them.

Were teams able to successfully identify failure points?

This is an example of one student's design portfolio.  I believe that this student has been able to identify a failure point, but I can't tell because not enough explanation has been given.  This will be a student that will be pulled aside in a small group to discuss the idea that we need to give more thorough explanations:

Were teams able to successfully identify one criteria to modify for tomorrow's trial?

I will look these over tonight and make notes to address any general issues with the whole class, or pull aside specific teams for particular concerns.