I ring my chime to get the class’s attention and ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’. Once seated, I announce that we are about to begin the fourth Science lesson in our unit about wood. To engage the students, I often start the lesson with some movement because it provides quick engagement and sets a positive tone. I ask them to move their feet. “Walk to the other side of the room, touch the door, and return to your carpet square..in ten seconds.” Everyone moves their feet and bodies but don’t go anywhere. “When I count to three, I want you to stand up and do it again. 1..2..3.” I kept the activity to ten seconds to maintain safe management. “After you touched the door, come back to your carpet.” After they returned, I asked them, “Did your form help the movement. Like, was it easier to go to the door when you sat down or stood up?” “Definitely standing up!” “So the form of the object- or the person- makes it much easier to perform it’s function, right?” “Right!” Activities like this, as simple as they are, are valuable tools to encourage focus and direct attention on the lesson at hand. When the responses are complete, we are ready to move on.
For this lesson, I introduce another book titled Wood. Despite the title, this book is a little different from the previous book, mainly in the level. I think it’s valuable to differentiate instructional resources so a variety of students have access to the material and can read it independently. I review pages 14-15, highlighting the parts that refer to the ways wood can be changed for a specific purpose.
For this explanation step, I purposely choose English Learners. Shapes are a fairly basic subject, so I want them to feel some success when they are able to access and share new knowledge and use related vocabulary. “Based on our observations of wood in our classroom, what shapes did you see?” "A table." "What shape was the table?" "Circle" "Anyone else see a different shape? "The bench in the library was a rectangle." "Any other different shape in the room" "The drawer..." What shape was the cabinet door?" "Square" “Circle..Rectangle..Square” “Great place to start. Were the sizes different too?” “Some were really big.” “I saw a small triangle.” “Does anyone know how a carpenter- someone who works with wood- changes the shape and size?” “They cut it?” “Sawing is one way they change the size and shape. The other way is they sand it- rub it with sandpaper to change it’s shape. They change the form based on the function- what they want to do with the wood. Then they plan the size and shape they need for that function to create a prototype. Who would like be carpenters and to do a demonstration to change the shape of some wood?” “Me! Of course!”
• Wood Collection (1/student)
• Sand Paper (1/student)
To make an authentic connection to real life applications, I structure this lesson as a Design Challenge. Kindergarteners can be fearless thinkers, so I want to see how they could adjust a woods form to create a solution to a problem I have identified. To give them a little direction, I create and present a simple Challenge. “Our doors are designed to be locked at all times. How can we make is possible for people to come in our room?” “You mean how can we keep it open?” “Exactly. You get to use wood to make a way to keep the door open. There are lots of different ways you can do this, so experiment until you and your group find a way that works best for you.”
In my experience, it's best to start out with one idea. Variety will come in the solutions. That's the beauty of Design Thinking- trial, error, and perseverance. It all adds up to ways to discover new kinds of thinking. To facilitate this lesson, I got many small pieces of wood, along with some sand paper, from a local shop teacher. You might look to local craftspeople or wood shops for some of your own.
I show them a piece of wood, the Design Cycle worksheet, and explain the process:
• First, decide on a function, how you want the wood to solve this Design Challenge.
• Next, design (draw or sketch) a shape that will help the wood perform that function.
• Then, use the sand paper to start changing the wood into the form you want.
• Last, test your prototype to see if it performs the function. Adjust it if necessary.
I dismiss the students to their tables. I watch as the children get together with their groups and go through the process to choose the wood, discuss the options, plan the prototype, sand the wood, and test the results. The design process takes about twenty minutes, long for a Kindergarten lesson though necessary to fully complete all the steps. As the activity winds down, I give them a one-minute warning with a hand-clap pattern. I ask the students to take their planning papers and return back to their carpet squares.
Once we gather, I ask, “Take a minute to share your result with another group. Share suggestions if you think of ways they can make it better. This kind of collaboration is what real engineers do!” I begin with this step to give the students practice to share their ideas with peers in a real life way. This is an important skill to support their future learning, so I take every opportunity to see it in action. “Can anyone come up and present their solution?” “We chose a triangle, made it smaller, and pushed it under the door to stop it from closing.” “What makes you choose that shape?” “Because we have one like it at home.” “Some people do take a current product and adjust it to make it work better. Did you think of any ways you could improve it?” "We sanded it but it was too big so we sanded it some more." I take a second to clarify the result, while supporting the process. To address the design cycle, it’s important to include the explanation piece. It helps to think through mistakes, while adding valuable language skills. Once this initial presentation is complete, I again ring the chime to end the lesson.