STEM Lab: Build a Balanced Tower
Lesson 3 of 6
Objective: SWBAT build a balanced tower using objects that they choose.
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. We have already completed the first two steps: Think and Plan.
This lesson is designed to take one 45 minute class period. Today, students will build towers from plans they designs using materials that they chose! Since we are learning about balance there will be some active adjustments to their plans as we go through the building process today!
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.
*Copies of STEM Lab Balance Design Rubric for students to check their progress by
*Materials for towers (10 objects per group based on their own plans)
*A sturdy surface to build on - we are using the tile floor!
*Yardsticks or multiple rulers for students to check their progress
*A camera to document successes!
My students are SUPER excited to build today and I want to provide one more real-world example of why understanding balance is so important in the real world. I show this video which shows the top ten tallest skyscrapers in the world! The video is quick and high energy and gets us pumped up to build our towers!
After the video, I say,
"Who can explain why it is important for engineers and scientists to study and test balance?"
With first graders --and probably with all students-- it is not enough for me to just show the video and assume that my students have made the connection that the towers have to be designed specifically so that they will balance. I have to be explicit and elicit those connections from my students, which I do through conversation. As I listen to their Explanations about Balance, it gives me a good idea of what they understand and what I need to keep working on conceptually. Once I know my students understand that towers have to balance so that they do not fall over and they have made a clear connection between the video and their building for today, I say,
"It is time to build!"
The day has come! First, I pass out a copy of everyone's design from yesterday and then we make sure everyone has their materials. Naturally, some students won't so I have a tub of emergency back-up materials that they can use instead. I say,
"If you do not have some of your materials and you need to use some of mine, make sure you change your design plan and the labels to what you switch your materials to! As scientists, we need to make sure we have accurate data in case anyone wants to copy our work!"
My students are anxious to build, but they must first remember the expectations from the rubric, so I very quickly review those. Then I say,
"As you work today, I would like you to actually work on the floor because you are not using anything but balance to keep your towers from falling. If someone bumps the table while you are working, what might happen? That's right - it will probably fall! So, work on the floor together right behind your table. Now, when you have a successful tower, raise your hand and we will document it by taking a picture with the ruler next to it, and then you can try to build your second plan. Okay?"
My job is very important today - to try to stop movement in the classroom! As students work, if anyone accidentally bumps someone else, they will knock over their tower and the group will have to start again, so I want to avoid that. Also, I need to get photographs for documentation of their success for the 'Evaluate' and 'Communicate' steps of the design cycle!
Building and inventing their towers for balance supports Science and Engineering Practice 3, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, as students are actively making observations and evaluating their choices as they construct their towers from their plans.
After our work time today and we have cleaned up our materials, I simply ask,
"How did your building go today?"
I provide time for my students to communicate about their successes and perhaps their failures, if they are feeling brave. Communicating information and sharing their work supports Science and Engineering Practice 8.
Tomorrow, we will finish the engineering design practice by evaluating our designs with the rubric and communicating about our work.