In keeping with my goal of helping children build creative thinking and perseverance, we had our first “construction experiment” of the year. Because this was the first, I focused less on the scientific process, and more on exploratory investigation.
For this project, I issued my students a challenge. I told them that they were to build a ship that would protect an egg from breaking when dropped. They had access to straws, coffee stirrers, and tape to build the ship.
I also decided to limit the supplies. I did not want the kids to go nuts with tape and build mountainous ships. I wanted them to consider how to use a few supplies productively. In order to do this, I gave each pair of students ten tokens. Then I assigned a cost to the supplies. One token could buy them five straws, or five stirrers, or a strip of tape. They could also rent a pair of scissors for a token. In this way, they had to decide which materials would be most useful. I also encouraged them not to spend all their tokens immediately. That way they could come back and get more of something if needed.
I paired the kids up, and gave them a few minutes to discuss a plan. Then I opened up the store and let them gather their supplies. They had about fifteen minutes to build.
This was a very interesting time. Some pairs were completely self sufficient and had a plan. Others came over to me, asking how to do it. I was careful NOT to help these teams. I wanted them to have to work together and develop a plan. So I sent them back to talk to their partner.
After about fifteen minutes, I called time (we did a little bit of a countdown to let them finish up.) We then went outside to test the ships.
For each pair, one student stood on a chair and held the ship, with an egg inside. We all counted down, then the student dropped the ship. We examined the egg after the drop to see if it were broken, cracked, or in one piece.
My students were all over the map with this. Some built a successful ship as a team that protected the egg. Some built two ships that were both weak and unstable. Others had planned for a place to hold the egg! This first experiment started lots of conversation, and my students are anxious for a chance to redesign and rebuild. My hope is that they all have a better concept of this type of work now, and they will be more prepared for similar challenges in the future.
Truly though, the best part is their interest in redesign. They are ready to learn from their experiences and try again. I can’t ask for more than that, can I?