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Natalie Linville-Mass

May 072021
 

Welcome to our second engineering challenge post to help you keep your students engaged the last few weeks of school.  (You can find the first challenge here.)

As we shared in the last post, it is essential to note that these posts aren’t intended to provide an entire NGSS-aligned lesson plan.  My goal is to focus on sharing a high-quality picture book, an engineering challenge, and question recommendations that you can use as a springboard to create a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Our second challenge is:  The Rube Goldberg Challenge paired with Just Like Rube Goldberg by Sarah Aronson and Rube Goldberg’s Simple, Normal, Humdrum School Day by Jennifer George.

Like my first challenge, I’m going to break my own rules and recommend that you read one of the picture books when introducing the challenge.  Just Like Rube Goldberg is the story of the real-life Rube Goldberg whom the machines are named after. It is a fantastic story for discussing perseverance, determination, and hard work.  Time after time, Mr. Goldberg is turned down time yet continues to hone his craft and work toward his goal of becoming a newspaper cartoonist.  Several of Rube’s actual machine drawings are included in the text (in addition to a few the illustrator drew) and can be used to introduce the concept of a Rube Goldberg Machine; however, for younger students, the actual drawings may be a bit hard to follow.

I recommend following up by reading just the first three pages of Rube Goldberg’s Simple, Normal, Humdrum School Day. This book is packed with easy-to-follow Rube Goldberg machines.  But be careful!  When I was doing this challenge with my kids, I only gave them one example from this book (though they were begging to see them all!) because I didn’t want to heavily influence their creations. You can read them the rest of the book after they have created their machines – or leave the text out for them to explore independently.  Students could even compare and contrast a contraption the author and illustrator designed to one they created if the students choose the same task as one depicted in the book.

Questions to Ask While Reading: 

You could read students the first page of Just Like Rube Goldberg, and ask your students to predict how someone could become a successful award-winning artist and a famous inventor without ever inventing anything at all.  Then, you could show your students one of the illustrator’s machines such as “How do you turn off a light?” and ask students:  What do you notice?  What do you wonder? 

As I mentioned before, this book is excellent for discussing character traits.  It is also a friendly text for inferring.  Here are a few questions you could ask as you read:

  • What can you infer about the job of being a cartoonist from the reaction Rube’s father has when Rube told his family he wanted that career?
  • What can you infer from the fact that Rube kept drawing and never gave up on his dream?
  • What can you infer from the fact that Rube became a celebrity and that readers couldn’t wait to see what he had to say?
  • What can you infer from the fact that we still talk about and create Rube Goldberg machines over 100 years after he began drawing his creations?

This text is also the perfect opportunity to discuss with your students how Rube’s engineering degree, art training, and constant practicing of his craft helped prepare him for his eventual success.

The Challenge:  Challenge your students to design a Rube Goldberg machine to accomplish an everyday task in a complicated way.  Depending on your lesson objectives, you could have your students collectively choose a task and create their own machines to accomplish that task.  Then you can share and compare the machines.  Or, you could have each student (or group of students) choose a different task to accomplish.  You can either have students draw a diagram or actually try and create their inventions depending on your classroom constraints on time and materials.  Here is a comprehensive blog post that gives examples of common tasks your machine could accomplish and provides an extensive list of potential materials should you choose to build your machines: https://brainpowerboy.com/rube-goldberg-ideas-machine-tasks-and-materials/

This post also has a nice list of simple materials for younger students: https://tinkerlab.com/engineering-kids-rube-goldberg-machine/ 

You’ll want to carefully consider your time and materials constraints before beginning the project.  Your students should be aware of those as they design their machines.  You may also want to add constraints for: 

  • a minimum and/or a maximum number of objects to be included in the design.
  • the amount of space their machine can occupy.
  • the period of time their machine has to complete the task from start to finish.

You’ll want to consider your students’ abilities when designing this lesson so you provide the scaffolding they may need.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need to support your students to figure out what objects to include in their machines?  For example, you could give them categories of objects to brainstorm – animals, things that move air, food, objects that make a sound, heavy objects, etc.
  • Do your students need to review cause and effect before designing their machines, or do you need to have some other cause and effect support available (like an anchor chart) during the design process?
  • Do you want to discuss simple machines with older students and brainstorm lists of materials that could be used for each type?
  • Do you want to provide technology for students who prefer to use graphics rather than draw their machines?

The structure of the lesson is up to you and your students.  The idea is to get your students experimenting with forces through the lens of cause and effect.   With older students, you can even bring in the concepts of gravity and friction. 

Next Generation Science Standards Connections:

These engineering performance expectations obviously fit well with this challenge:

  • K-2-ETS1-2     Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-1      Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2      Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3      Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.         

This challenge also makes connections with these grade-level PEs:

  • 2-PS1-3           Make observations to construct an evidence-based account of how an object made of a small set of pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.
  • 3-PS2-1           Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
  • 5-PS2-1           Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

If you are a StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way subscriber, you can check out the engineering and forces and motion informational texts below.  Remember, each 1st – 5th grade text has multiple reading levels so all of your students can read the same content independently.  I recommend having students use these text resources after they have designed and built their own devices.  Used this way, the texts help students learn vocabulary and background information they can use to explain what they have learned on their own.

  • 5th Grade:  Gravity’s Forceful Nature
  • 3rd Grade:  May The Force Be With You
  • 2nd Grade:  From This to That
  • 2nd Grade: From Trash to Treasure
  • 3rd-5th Grade Engineering: Watering Your Garden on Vacation
  • 3rd-5th Grade Engineering: Two Ways to Solve a Problem
  • 3rd-5th Grade Engineering:  Testing Prototypes
  • K-2nd  Engineering: Sporty Shapes
  • K-2nd  Engineering: The Importance of Shapes

Not a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial to access the texts above.

Cause and effect is the main crosscutting concept that fits well with this challenge.  The machines students are creating are entirely dependent on cause and effect chains of events.

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices.  They are asking questions and defining problems as they determine a task to complete and the materials they should use.   They are developing and using models as they draw their designs.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations if they are building and testing their machines.  They are constructing explanations and designing solutions, whether building their machines or drawing their designs.  When they share their machines with peers, they are obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.  There are many possibilities for incorporating analyzing and interpreting data in upper elementary and using mathematics and computational thinking.  For example, you could have your students time how long it takes their machine to complete the task (and/or provide a time constraint for them to address).  You could also ask them to create a machine that uses the smallest amount of space as a constraint to incorporate measurement and estimation skills.

Bottom line:  Have fun seeing what unique contraptions your students can imagine!

May 072021
 

If your students are anything like my fourth graders, by the time we get to May, we’re all getting a little antsy.  The weather in the United States is getting warmer, we’ve been working hard all year, and we’re all ready to climb out the classroom window at any moment to run around the playground like pollinating bees. (Which you can do for a fun exercise break with your class!) That’s why all this month, I’m going to be sharing engineering design challenges. Engineering challenges are a great way to keep your students engaged and excited about learning during these sometimes tough last few weeks of school.

As a teacher, they provide a vehicle for you to meet all three dimensions of the NGSS. They are an authentic way for students to use science and engineering practices while examining the disciplinary core ideas through the lenses of cross-cutting concepts. (More about this later. I’ll include which performance expectations, practices, and concepts you’ll meet with each post!)

If you are teaching using the 5Es, these challenges fit well doing the Elaborate phase.  Elaborate is an excellent opportunity to introduce an engineering challenge because engineering requires applying science knowledge to solve a problem.  That’s exactly what the Elaborate phase is all about – encouraging students to transfer the knowledge they just acquired and apply it in new ways.

Since helping teachers use literature effectively during science instruction our specialty, I’ll be recommending a picture book connection with each challenge as well as sharing how and when that picture book should be used during instruction.

Important Note:  These posts aren’t intended to provide an entire NGSS-aligned lesson plan.  My goal is to focus on sharing a high-quality picture book, engineering challenge, and question recommendations that you can use as a springboard to create a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Without further ado, our first challenge is:  The Hot Wheels Challenge paired with Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee

Typically, literature should be introduced after students have had the opportunity to design and test their solutions because many picture books “give away” the information the students should be learning themselves. It isn’t much fun to design a bridge if you have already been taught the seven main types of bridges and what makes them structurally sound. You’re going to end up with a lot of bridges that look alike and mimic what they saw in the picture book.

However, I’m going to break my own rules with this first challenge and recommend that you read the picture book first.  In Roller Coaster, Marla Frazee recreates the experience of riding a roller coaster through her text and illustrations.  It builds background knowledge for kids who haven’t experienced a roller coaster ride before. (Which may be most of your students if they can’t yet meet the height requirements!) The book should cause your students to begin thinking about forces and wondering, “How does a roller coaster work?”

Questions to Ask While Reading:  When the train is being pulled up the hill, ask your students:  What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  And then again, on the page where the train goes all the way around the loop, ask the same questions.

Ask your students to compare the page where the train is being pulled up the hill with the page where the train zips or the train zooms. How and why are these pages different in their text and illustrations? How did Marla Frazee try to make you feel like you were on a roller coaster? How are the actions shown on these pages different?

The Challenge:  Group your students and give them each a few sections of Hot Wheels Track and a car.

That’s it.  (Resist the temptation to give them blocks or books to prop up one end to create a ramp!) Tell them that they can find or ask for other materials in the classroom if they need them later for their designs. (Note:  You can buy 40 ft. of track at Amazon for $20)

Below are example design requirements you could give students. Challenge them to design a solution using the materials you gave them and any other materials they can find. (Again, resist the temptation to tell them to raise and lower the track or to provide them with something to stop the car at the end. Let them figure out their designs!)

  1. Design a track that will make the car travel the shortest distance possible after rolling off the track.
  2. Design a track to make the car travel the farthest distance possible after rolling off the track.
  3. Design a track that will slow the car down, so it rolls to a stop at a specific location.
  4. Design a track that will cause the car to stop at the end of the track and not roll across the floor.
  5. Design a track that will allow the car to roll over a hill.
  6. Design a track that will change the car’s direction at the end of the track so it will roll into a cup.
  7. Design a track that requires a pull to get the car started (like the roller coaster).
  8. Design a track that requires a soft push to get the car started and one that requires a hard push.

You can have your students draw their track ideas before building them and/or after creating them.  Have groups share and discuss their different designs.  What did you try first?  How did you modify your design so it would work better?  Which designs met the criteria?  Which designs didn’t meet the criteria?  Why?  Which solutions were the best?  Why?

The structure of the lesson is up to you and your students. The idea is to get your students experimenting with forces so they can develop the concept that a force causes a change in the speed or direction of an object.  With younger students, you can describe the strength of pushes and pulls.  With older students, you can bring in the concepts of gravity and friction.

If you are a StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way subscriber, you can check out the forces and motion informational texts below.  Remember, each 1st – 5th grade text has multiple reading levels so all of your students can read the same content independently.  I recommend having students read these texts after they have conducted their track experiments.  This way the students are using them as a resource to learn vocabulary and background information to help them explain what they have discovered on their own.

  • 5th Grade:  Gravity’s Forceful Nature
  • 3rd Grade:  May The Force Be With You
  • Kindergarten:  Push This Way!  Pull That Way!
  • Kindergarten:  Push Hard!  Push Soft!
  • Kindergarten:  Push and Pull

Not a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial to access the texts above.

Next Generation Science Standards Connections:

Several performance expectations fit well with this challenge:

  • K-PS1-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.
  • K-PS2-2 Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.
  • 3-PS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
  • 5-PS2-1 Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

Cause and effect is the main cross-cutting concept that fits well with this challenge.  Have students think about:  What happened when you did XYZ to your track?  What caused your car to do XYZ?

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices.  They are asking questions and defining problems as they test and redesign their tracks.  They are developing and using models as they draw their designs.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations and constructing explanations and designing solutions during their track building and testing.  When they share their tracks with peers, they are obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.  In upper elementary, there are many possibilities for incorporating analyzing and interpreting data and using mathematics and computational thinking. For example, you could have your students measure the height of their ramps and how far their cars travel off the end. 

Bottom line:  Enjoy these last few weeks with your students.  Ask questions, let them take the lead, and have fun!!                 

NGSS Informational Texts for Fourth Grade: Stunning Sinkholes!

 Posted by on March 9, 2021  Science Resources  Comments Off on NGSS Informational Texts for Fourth Grade: Stunning Sinkholes!
Mar 092021
 
What do you notice is happening in this photograph?

The fourth grade performance expectation 4-ESS2-1 asks students to: “Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.” In our fourth grade informational text for this performance expectation, Stunning Sinkholes! by Sarah Wassner Flynn, students learn how the hydrosphere and the geosphere interact to form sinkholes. You can access the text here.

After students have read the text, if they would like to know more about sinkholes, this brief 3-D animation shows different reasons sinkholes might form.

This animated video that explains how weathering and erosion work together:

> Study Jams: Weathering & Erosion

Students will have fun playing this interactive game where they will learn about weathering and erosion and guess which agent of weathering and erosion created each interesting land feature:

> National Geographic: Walter’s Travels – Weathering and Erosion

Stunning Sinkholes! is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here.

NGSS Informational Texts for Third Grade: Safety in Numbers

 Posted by on February 21, 2021  Science Resources  Comments Off on NGSS Informational Texts for Third Grade: Safety in Numbers
Feb 212021
 
What do you notice is happening in this photograph?

The third grade performance expectation 3-LS2-1 asks students to: Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members to survive.

In our third grade informational text for this performance expectation, Safety in Numbers! by Sarah Wassner Flynn, students learn about the ways animals stick together to stay safe. You can access the text here.

After reading the text, your class can build their own ant farms to observe group behavior:

https://www.generationgenius.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Animal-Group-Behavior-Lesson-Plan-GG.pdf

Or play this simulation game for students to take an active role in learning how group behavior helps members survive.

https://www.siemensstemday.com/downloads?path=activity/Swarm%21.pdf&fid=416&section=educators

Safety in Numbers is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here.

NGSS Informational Texts for Second Grade: Seeds Everywhere!

 Posted by on January 25, 2021  Content Recommendations  Comments Off on NGSS Informational Texts for Second Grade: Seeds Everywhere!
Jan 252021
 
What might happen if a squirrel buries an acorn?

The second grade performance expectation 2-LS2-1 asks students to: “Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.”  In our second grade informational text for this performance expectation, Seeds Everywhere! by Sarah Wassner Flynn, students learn different ways animals spread seeds.  You can access the text here.

After students have read the text, you might interest students in playing this interactive game online where students are challenged to collect seeds that are dispersed in different ways:

> PBD Kids: Seed Racer

This is a great engineering lesson plan that aligns well with the performance expectation.  Students are asked to design a seed that could travel a long distance.  The plan includes videos that show students different ways seeds are dispersed and discuss how the design of the seed is important to the process.

> Project Learning Tree: STEM: Have Seeds, Will Travel

Seeds Everywhere! is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here.

NGSS Informational Texts for First Grade: Just Like Animals!

 Posted by on January 7, 2021  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica, Science Resources  Comments Off on NGSS Informational Texts for First Grade: Just Like Animals!
Jan 072021
 

What helps this turtle stay protected?

The first grade performance expectation 1-LS1-1 asks students to “use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.”  In our first grade informational text for this performance expectation, Just Like Animals by Sarah Wassner Flynn, students learn how human tools can function similarly to plant and animal parts.  You can access the text here.

After students have read the text, you could extend their learning with this video about Biomimicry.

Take advantage of this NGSS-aligned lesson plan that follows the 5Es structure!

And finally, here’s a great collection of 30 examples to share with your students of animals that inspired technological advances.  Enjoy!

Just Like Animals is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here.

NGSS Informational Texts for Kindergarten: Why Do I Live Here?

 Posted by on December 10, 2020  Science Resources  Comments Off on NGSS Informational Texts for Kindergarten: Why Do I Live Here?
Dec 102020
 

Why do deer live in places with trees?

The kindergarten performance expectation K-ESS3-1 asks students to: “Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.”  In our kindergarten informational text for this performance expectation, Why Do I Live Here? by Sarah Wassner Flynn, students learn why a forest is the perfect habitat for deer.  You can access the text here:

https://texts.starrmatica.com/sample-texts

After students read the text, you might interest them in exploring the relationship between other animals and their habitats.  Download the free version of the Switch Zoo App. Students can build an animal and place it in a habitat they think will be suitable for that animal.

https://switchzoo.com/switchzooapp.htm

This simple matching activity could be enhanced by a class discussion about why each habitat is best suited for that animal.  You could further the discussion by having students imagine what habitats would be the worst suited for each animal and asking them to explain why.

https://ssec.si.edu/habitat

Your students can check out the habitat games available on PBS Kids. They can explore a variety of habitats to learn what animals live in each and what they need to survive.

https://pbskids.org/plumlanding/games/index.html

For an offline alternative, you can have your students complete the activity linked below.  As an extra challenge, ask them to explain why the animal they drew will survive best in their chosen habitat.

https://www.education.com/worksheet/article/my-animal-habitat/

Why Do I Live Here? is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here: http://www.starrmatica.com