STEM Lab: Plan a Balanced Tower

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SWBAT design a balanced tower using their knowledge of balance!

Big Idea

We know how balance can you design a two foot tall tower that balances?

Teacher Preparation

My students work in the STEM Lab for a week each month and complete a project following the engineering design cycle. The design cycle includes the steps think, plan, invent, evaluate, and communicate. This month, we are working on balance as part of the Forces and Motion Unit. For the first step of the design cycle which is 'Think', we did an investigation to learn about how objects balance using a balance scale. Click here to see that lesson.

This lesson is designed to take one 45 minute class period. Today, students will plan 2 designs that have to meet certain qualifications. Tomorrow, they will construct at least one of their designs. The goal is to learn about balance, so many of their materials are of different weights to really teach them that they have to think carefully about where their objects have to be placed in order to distribute the weight equally to create balance!

I teach the Essential Standards and this lesson aligns to 1.P.1.3, "Predict the effect of a given force on the motion of an object, including balanced forces". In the first lesson for this STEM lab, my students developed our essential question which is "How can I balance two or more objects?" Click here to hear Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question.



*STEM Lab Balance Design Sheet / STEM Lab Balance Design Sheet 1 per pair of students

*STEM Lab Balance Design Rubric / STEM Lab Balance Design Rubric 1 per pair of students

Warm Up

5 minutes

To get us started today, I play this song (there is no video!) and show three photographs (Balancing Act 1, Balancing Act 2Balancing Act 3) to start a conversation about balance. I ask this question,

"How do these people balance?!?"

I like to use interesting media, including photographs, to engage students in conversation at the beginning of lessons as a hook because it makes students more engaged in the task at hand. Today, students will be planning a tower that can balance without additional support...meaning their hands! It will be challenging for them to stay on task the whole time, so giving them something really interesting to think about at the beginning will help that!


30 minutes

Today, my students will make two plans for designing a tower that fits the criteria . I say,

"Your STEM balance project today will be just like those pictures - but you will not be balancing your bodies! You are going to work with your partner to balance a tower...but there are going to be some tough challenges! First, we are going to look at the rubric that you will use to score your work later in the week. That way, you know what the expectations are for your tower that you will be building."

I show the rubric on my SmartBoard and explain each part. I also use a yard stick and show exactly how tall two feet it - because that may be the hardest challenge! Then, I show the design plan paper and say,

"You and your partner will only get one paper. There is space for two designs. You both need to work on drawing and labeling the objects that you think will work to make your tower. Is it fair if one partner does all of the work? No! Of course not, and scientists work together! Now, before we get started, we need to think about one more thing. What else do you need to know before you plan your tower? That's right - your materials!"

For this part of the engineering design cycle, I want my students to be creative and not limited, so I am not providing them with a bucket of materials. Instead, I am going to ask them to think of things that they can use either from our classroom or from their house that they could bring to school. Of course, I explain that they cannot bring anything valuable (and I have explained this in my weekly newsletter so the parents are prepared!) and nothing will be glued or taped together - and everything will be returned.

So, without delay, my students begin to brainstorm their materials and draft their towers. As they work, I walk around and ask them about how they plan to stack and arrange their objects. I also remind them to label their objects so that they can remember to collect their materials. Science and Engineering Practice 4 states that students should recording information including observations, thoughts and ideas, and also use prior experiences, which can be from media, in order to describe patterns or relationships in the natural and designed worlds in order to answer scientific questions and solve problems. My students have watched a video in the lesson prior and looked at photographs about balance which are certainly informing their choices during this planning stage! Also, this activity supports Practice 3, Planning an Investigation, as students plan how to build their tower using prior experience about balance.

At the end of the work time, we gather and I ask who would like to share their plans!

After class, I collect and make 3 copies of all of my students work so that I can send a copy home with each student, and they have a working copy for tomorrow, and they have a copy for their journal for later on. If they need to bring in items from home then they need their list! Also, I do not want anyone to lose their ideas for tomorrow. Eventually, they will each glue their designs into their STEM journals but it makes it easier to copy if they are not glued in until later.


Wrap Up

10 minutes

After our work time, I say,

"Who would like to share their plan with the class?"

I invite a few groups, especially those that worked carefully with drawing accurate pictures and labeling clearly, to show their work on the document camera so that we can all see it. Some groups may not want to give away their secrets, and that is okay! Giving my students an opportunity to share their work is an important way for them to also share ideas and their drawings and written work. Just a few minutes of sharing on a regular basis can really boost the community in your classroom! It supports Science and Engineering Practice 8 as they communicate their thoughts and ideas.

Then I say,

"I am going to collect your plans, make copies of them, and send them home with you so that you can remember to collect your materials. Then tomorrow we will make sure you have everything so you can build your towers!"