Let's Build a Dam

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Objective

SWBAT work as a team to plan, design, construct and test a dam with natural materials.

Big Idea

This lesson uses a real world situation to create a scenario for students to plan, design and carry out a true engineering task....building a beaver dam.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

Water has the ability to change and shape the lay out of land. It is a moving force with powerful ramifications.  Nature has amazing ways of working with the water and humans have learned over time how to harness that power.  

This lesson offers students an opportunity to design and compare different solutions to stopping the flow of water in a real world scenario.  

It provides an opportunity to discuss some very real world problems facing many states in our country today.  In fact, the day this lesson is introduced, our Governor made a statement about concerns of a possible drought this due to a lack of snow melt this spring.  It offered the perfect segue into the lesson. 

This lesson follows a lesson on beavers and their role in the environment to build dams that help our ecosystems. Utilizing the learning from the previous lesson, students will build their own dams and test their theories.  This lesson also follows more of an engineering phase of design and really is created to allow the children to lead the learning. Because of this, it does not have the same elements of a typical 5E lesson. 

Much of our state is full of freshwater in many forms and droughts are always a threat. Discovering ways that can best help to prevent this real world problem can be challenging and fun.  After reading and learning about how beavers are helping to sustain ponds, lakes and streams in many areas, it was only logical to encourage my students to build one of their own. 

Materials needed:

rocks (various sizes)

sticks (to act as logs)

sand or soil (I used sand...it was less messy and easier to clean afterwards)

small leaves

troughs to create the dam (I used paint troughs from the local hardware store)

Engage

5 minutes

I begin this lesson by sharing with the students something I recently heard on the news.  Our Governor was sharing that our state could be in a potential drought because of the lack of snow we received during the winter months.  A lack of snow means very little snow melt and that is not a good situation for our state.  

Instantly, the children remember an article read just days earlier about the state of California and their droughts during our reading block. A newspaper article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, dated January 5, 2015 describes a situation where state officials are observing beavers and examining the possibility of using beavers to help restore wetland areas and avoid further droughts (SP6).  

I explain to the children that this could be really scary for our entire state and we discuss some of the things that could happen because of this situation. 

 

Preparing and Planning

10 minutes

I instruct the students to look at the screen and I show them the first slide.  The title slide eludes to what we are going to do.....I move quickly to slide two which explains and describes the scenario for our work.  

I read the scenario and explain that just that morning, I heard our Governor explain that is a real situation our state is faced with.  I go on to explain further that if we hit a drought in our valley, it could severely impact our fruit crops.  Knowing the children will make the connections due to our earlier learning at the beginning of the school year,  I want this investigation to be as real as possible. I believe if it is, the children have a much more keen awareness of the reality of their work.  

I move on to slide three and continue to explain the situation...the brainstorming phase. The slide clearly explains to the students what they will be creating. I continue to work through slides four and five.  Both of these slides offer more information in the form of the tools and materials the children will utilize in their work. 

I then pass out the student documentation booklet and allow the children to look through it for a couple of minutes.  I explain that in their teams, they will use these booklets to document all their work and findings.  

The children are familiar with these booklets. Others similar to them have been used frequently in other investigations. 

When the scenario has been established, I ask the team leaders to come and gather the materials for their teams to begin working.  I remind the students that they must agree and work together as a team.  

The children have their documenting booklets and materials and begin to dialogue and design. While they are in this phase, I am circulating the room and listening to conversations. I try not to interject too much, as I really want to see how the children will work together and what directions the conversations and work will go with my suggestions and support. At this point of the school year, I expect them to handle this well.  

 

Building, & Test Trial One

20 minutes

When the scenario has been established, I ask the team leaders to come and gather the materials for their teams to begin working.  I remind the students that they must agree and work together as a team.    

When the children have completed their documenting and building, they are able to test the dam. I bring up slide six to explain for the visual learners what the next phase of the process will be pouring cups of water (I use inexpensive plastic measuring cups. I like to use these because they incorporate the element of math).  Ultimately, there will be a child who will pay attention to the exact amount of water that is used.  The students watch and wait to see if there will be any residual down pouring of water.  Some groups are successful in their first trial, while other groups are not.  Slide seven explains what the students will do next. Slide eight explains the need to re-test the new model.  

I find that always having the power point up with not only pictures, but language to read that reiterates what I am explaining is helpful. The higher level learners will look back on it often to make sure they are following the plan.  

This leads the children to their modification phase.  The students discuss what did not work and how they can fix it to make it better. 

After each phase, the children work to document in complete sentences what took place in their work.  The intent is to begin to practice the communication element that is critical to science work (SP8).  

 

Redesigning and Testing

10 minutes

This leads the children to their modification phase.  The students discuss what did not work and how they can fix it to make it better.  I wander through the classroom as the teams are discussing their modifications.  

I only intervene when I see or hear a group needing direction.  If a team appears to be stumped how to make any changes, I may suggest some possibilities.  Perhaps adding sand or extra leaves to fill in holes.  However, what I find is that by this time of the year and after the amount of other investigations we have done up to this point, they students seem to be very independent and able to maneuver and manipulate their ideas and the materials without any support from me. 

After each phase, the children work to document in complete sentences what took place in their work. The intent is to begin to practice the communication element that is critical to science work (SP8).  

 

Reflections

10 minutes

When all the work has been completed, I ring my bell to get all the students attention.  I ask them to leave all their materials alone and not to focus on those, but more on the screen. Slide nine shows a list of questions I want the children to zero in on. 

I have the children look at the screen and read the questions to themselves and then I read them aloud. I am not encouraging dialogue or classroom discourse at this time. I simply want the children to hear the questions and think about their own ideas about the work.  

•Am I pleased with my results?
•Do I feel it will be helpful to the environment?
•Was I able to create a dam that only used natural materials?
•Will my design be cost effective?
•Have I learned enough from the beavers to replicate their work?  

 

While the work was group work, I want to encourage the reflection piece to be independent. I want to foster that confidence in their own beliefs.  This is something that up until this point has not been completely introduced.  Most of the classroom work has always been partner or team work.  I want to begin to move them to a higher level of independence.  

After a few minutes of writing, I ask the children to share with their teams what they have written.  I find that many of them have documented similar ideas and thoughts.