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Engineering Challenge #5: Paper Airplane Challenge

 Posted by on June 14, 2021  Content Recommendations, Engineering Challenges, Science Resources  Comments Off on Engineering Challenge #5: Paper Airplane Challenge
Jun 142021
 

Welcome to our fifth engineering challenge post to help you keep your students engaged the last few weeks of school.  Click these links to find the first four challenges:

Below, I’ve shared links to several websites with detailed instructions for setting up your paper airplane challenge.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, my goal with this post is to share resources and tips to design a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Our fifth challenge is:  The Paper Airplane Challenge paired with Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.

This challenge is a common one you have probably seen (or even tried) before. However, it is a tremendous engineering challenge that can be adapted for any grade level and addresses these NGSS performance expectations:

  • 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-ETS1-3 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.         

You could begin your lesson by reading aloud Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.  This picture book tells the story of Violet, a budding engineer, who her peers don’t recognize for her amazing inventions until her plane swoops in to save the day. The book provides a hook to get students thinking about building flying machines (in this case, paper airplanes!).

Reading Activities: 

This text is an excellent opportunity to discuss the character traits of perseverance and determination.  As you read, ask your students to find evidence in the book of how Violet displays these traits.

The Challenge: 

The book provides a nice lead into the challenge of designing a paper airplane.  There are a couple of different directions this challenge could go. For example, you could create a challenge for the longest time in the air, the farthest distance, the ability to hit a target, or the ability to fly carrying the most pennies!

Here are a few links to get you started:

Other Considerations:

As I’ve shared in my previous posts, be sure not to give your students too much information before they begin designing their airplanes.  Don’t show them videos or do a demonstration about how to fold the perfect airplane.  Let them create and test their designs first!

Post Test Activities:

Once you have run your first test, have the students compare their results to each other.  You may want to create a class graph of the data to help with comparing. You could give students the opportunity to hypothesize why they believe some designs worked better than others and then to have the chance to design an investigation to test their theories.  This might include revising their own designs, creating new designs, and/or collaborating between groups. Some students may also want to do some independent research at this point about what folding methods create an airplane that stays in the air the longest or that flies the farthest.  And some students may come up with new questions to investigate.  For example, “Will my airplane fly farther outside or inside.  Is the weather a factor?”

By continuing the discussion and engineering beyond the first test, you encourage your students to do what “real” engineers do.  Testing and making modifications is an integral part of real-world problem solving, and we want to be sure we don’t deprive our students of that experience in our classrooms.  The more we can show students early in their careers that failure and revision are a part of the learning process, the more they expect and embrace it in the future.

If you are a StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way subscriber, you can check out the engineering informational texts below.  Remember, each 1st – 5th grade text has multiple reading levels so all of your students can read the same content independently. For example, you could use the 3rd-5th grade engineering texts either before or after your designs.  If you choose to use them before, students could model their tests after the engineering steps discussed in the text.  If you decide to use them after, students could compare their tests to those in the texts.

  • 3rd-5th Engineering:  Watering Your Garden on Vacation
  • 3rd-5th Engineering:  Two Ways to Solve a Problem
  • 3rd-5th Engineering:  Testing Prototypes

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

Structure and function and cause and effect are the main crosscutting concepts that fit well with this challenge. 

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices. They are developing and using models as they construct their designs.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations as they test their airplanes.  They are constructing explanations and designing solutions when determining why some designs worked better than others.  When they share their designs with peers and discuss the trial results, they obtain, evaluate, and communicate information.  When creating graphs and reviewing the trial results, they analyze and interpret data and use mathematics and computational thinking

And as always, have fun letting your students take the lead!

Engineering Challenge #4: Ice Cube Insulator

 Posted by on May 18, 2021  Content Integration Ideas, Content Recommendations, Engineering Challenges, Science Resources  Comments Off on Engineering Challenge #4: Ice Cube Insulator
May 182021
 

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

You’ll see in this post, as in previous posts, that my intention is not to provide an entire NGSS-aligned lesson plan.  My goal is to share resources you can use to design a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Our fourth challenge is The Ice Cube Insulator Challenge paired with One Hot Summer Day by Nina Crews.

This challenge is a common one you have probably seen (or even tried) before.  It is a tremendous engineering challenge that explicitly addresses:

  • K-PS3-2 Use tools and materials to design and build a structure that will reduce the warming effect of sunlight on an area.  So, it is often used as the “go-to” challenge for that performance expectation.  Yet, because it also addresses the engineering performance expectations shown below, the challenge can be adapted for any grade level. 
  • 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-ETS1-3   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.         

You could begin your lesson by reading aloud One Hot Summer Day by Nina Crews.  This picture book with photograph illustrations tells the story of one young girl’s hot summer day. The book provides a hook to get students thinking about hot weather and ways to stay cool.

Reading Activities: 

As you are reading the text, you could have your students keep track of the strategies people use to stay cool.  Then after reading, you could have students add their own ideas and strategies to the list.

The Challenge: 

The book provides a nice lead to the challenge of designing a solution to keep an ice cube cool.  If you aren’t familiar with this challenge, students are asked to engineer a structure that will keep an ice cube from melting for the longest time.

Constraint Considerations:

You’ll want to consider your time constraints when designing your lesson.  Testing your ice cubes will obviously proceed more quickly outside on a hot summer day, but don’t feel that you have to wait for nice weather to enjoy this engineering challenge. – Any ice cube outside of a freezer will melt eventually!

Materials are always a constraint to consider.  For this challenge in particular, the more materials you can provide your students with, the better.  Narrowing their materials narrows their design options and increases the chances their solutions will all look similar. 

Shady Discussion

When doing this challenge with my sons, I did not discuss the role shade plays in keeping things cool.  The picture book mentions shade, and certainly, my boys have had experience keeping cool in the summer by staying in the shade.  But by explicitly discussing shade, I felt I would be pointing them in a design direction that I would rather have them discover independently.  Like I shared with the bridge challenge in the last post, the less direct information you provide upfront, the better.  We want students to be engaging in the activity as engineers who are tasked with figuring out a solution. 

Other Considerations:

Decide ahead of time how you will keep track of how long the ice cube takes to melt.  Does each team have a stopwatch?  Is there one master stopwatch, and teams call out when their ice cube has melted and their time is recorded?  You may even need to discuss what it will look like when their ice cube is fully melted.  Be sure to have a control ice cube that is not protected by any insulation. 

Post Test Activities:

Once you have run your first test, have the students compare their results to the control cube and each other.  You may want to create a class graph (or individual graphs) of the data to help with comparing.  Ask your students to discuss which designs worked the best and to provide evidence for their claims. You could allow students to hypothesize why they believe some designs worked better than others and then have the opportunity to design an investigation to test their theories.  This might include revising their designs, creating new designs, and/or collaborating between groups. Some students may also want to do some independent research at this point about how different materials and colors reflect and absorb heat.  And some students may come up with new questions to investigate.  For example, “Is shade a larger factor in keeping an ice cube cool outside than it is inside?”

By continuing the discussion and engineering beyond the first test, you encourage your students to do what “real” engineers do.  Testing and making modifications is an integral part of real-world problem solving, and we want to be sure we don’t deprive our students of that experience in our classrooms.  The more we can show students early in their careers that failure and revision are a part of the learning process, the more they expect and embrace it in the future.

If you are a StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way subscriber, you can check out the engineering and energy 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 the kindergarten texts after they have built their structures.  Used this way, the texts help students learn vocabulary and background information they can use to explain what they have learned on their own. You could use the 3rd-5th grade engineering texts either before or after your designs.  If you choose to use them before, students could model their tests after the engineering steps discussed in the text.  If you decide to use them after, students could compare their tests to those in the texts.

  • Kindergarten: Stay in the Shade and Keeping Cool
  • 3rd-5th Engineering: Watering Your Garden on Vacation
  • 3rd-5th Engineering: Two Ways to Solve a Problem
  • 3rd-5th Engineering: Testing Prototypes

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

Structure and function and cause and effect are the main crosscutting concepts that fit well with this challenge. 

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices.  They are developing and using models as they construct their designs.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations to test how long it takes for the ice cube to melt.  They are constructing explanations and designing solutions when determining why some designs worked better than others.  When they share their designs with peers and discuss the trial results, they obtain, evaluate, and communicate information.  When creating graphs and reviewing the trial results, they analyze and interpret data and use mathematics and computational thinking

As a fun extension, you could bring in different products designed by real-life engineers to keep ice from melting.  Run your own tests to see which coolers, thermoses, and tumblers you would recommend to consumers!


Engineering Challenge #3: Building Bridges

 Posted by on May 12, 2021  Content Integration Ideas, Content Recommendations, Engineering Challenges, Science Resources  Comments Off on Engineering Challenge #3: Building Bridges
May 122021
 

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

As we shared in the last posts, it is essential to note that these posts are not intended to provide an entire NGSS-aligned lesson plan.  My goal is to share resources you can use to design a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Our third challenge is:  The Bridge Building Challenge paired with Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince or Twenty-One Elephants by Phil Bildner.

Let me emphasize at the outset that this challenge could go in a myriad of different directions depending on your materials and time constraints.  There are many different ways for students to construct their bridges, so I will provide you with some general guidelines and lots of excellent links and ideas.

You could begin your lesson by reading aloud Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince.  This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the true story of P.T. Barnum’s stunt to instill confidence in the strength of the Brooklyn Bridge by having his 21 elephants cross it. It is brief and to the point and provides all of the “hook” you need to lead into your bridge-building challenge.

There is another version of this same true story that is told from a young girl’s viewpoint.  It is titled:  Twenty-One Elephants by Phil Bildner. This second version adds more detail to the story, has more straightforward prose, and gives specific arguments people may have made for why they believed the bridge wasn’t sound.  Both texts are good choices.

Questions to Ask While Reading: 

The book’s front cover by April Jones Prince is a classic opportunity for your students to break out their predicting skills.  Show the cover to your students and ask: What do you notice?  What do you wonder? Why do you think this image is on the cover of the book?

If you use the Phil Bildner version, the text is an excellent opportunity to discuss opinions versus facts and evidence. As a class, you can track the reasons (opinions) that people think the bridge isn’t safe and how the little girl refutes each claim with facts and evidence.  What a great connection to the Science and Engineering Practice of Engaging in Argument from Evidence!

Whichever book you choose to read, you can discuss with your class why they think P.T. Barnum decided to stage such an elaborate test of the bridge.  Why do you think he believed it was safe?  What does the text say about one person’s ability to make a difference?

The Challenge: 

Challenge your students to design a bridge that will hold a specific amount of weight you determine.  That weight could be in a certain number of coins, counting cubes, crayons, or pretty much anything that will fit on their bridges!  I highly recommend building your own bridge without the students around and testing what weight makes sense for your constraints.  Too much weight and it will be difficult for the students to be successful.  Not enough weight, and even the most shakily constructed bridges will stand.  (Check out this popsicle stick bridge that held 100 pounds!

You’ll want to carefully consider your time and materials constraints before beginning the project.  Also, think about other constraints, such as whether the bridge needs to be a certain length.  I love this challenge because it can be adapted to many age levels and completed with many different materials.  You could have kindergarteners building with popsicle sticks and paper cups or fifth graders constructing with straws and tape.  Here are a few blog posts that share different materials you could use for your bridge construction:

  • This post shares a unique construction using an egg carton, markers, rubber bands, and a ruler.
  • This post uses toilet paper rolls, paper cups, and popsicle sticks.
  • This post uses straws and tape.
  • This post uses paper and tape.

I share these posts to show some examples of bridges constructed using different materials; however, there are several issues to keep in mind when viewing the posts above.  First, the most important part of this challenge is not to provide your students with templates and examples for what to create. Do not show them a photograph, a model you built, or a template. Your job is to provide your students the supplies and the constraints and then to step back and let them figure out what to build.  I can’t stress this enough – your only job is to facilitate by asking questions.  And if your students’ bridges end up looking like cookie-cutter copies of each other, you have likely given them too much information upfront and turned your engineering challenge into a craft.  (Nothing against crafts, but they just shouldn’t be mistaken for engineering challenges!)

It is also a mistake to give your students too much information at the beginning of the challenge.  Resist the temptation to do a mini-lesson about different types of bridges and/or how to create a structurally sound bridge.  We want students to be engaged in the activity as engineers who are tasked with figuring out a solution.  Once the students have had the opportunity to construct their first structures, come together as a class and discuss what worked well and what didn’t.  At this point, you could challenge students to build bridges that will hold even greater weights.  And you can start to bring in resources for students to learn how their bridges can be made more structurally sound. 

Bridges! Amazing Structures to Design, Build & Test by Carol A Johmann and Elizabeth J. Rieth is a fantastic resource to share with students during this process.  The book discusses the process of building a bridge, different bridge engineering concepts, and the structure of different types of bridges.  This book should be a resource for students to learn concepts to apply to their own designs.  Please resist the temptation to use this book at the beginning of your lesson, or it may be difficult for your students to create bridges that aren’t copies of bridge construction ideas suggested in the book.  Once your students have done some research, have them modify and test their designs using the knowledge they have gained.

Two additional picture books to enrich your bridge study are:

Bridges Are To Cross by Philemon Sturges and This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers.  Bridges Are To Cross is a beautiful compilation of illustrations of bridges around the world paired with a brief explanation of why they were built.  There are many great opportunities in the text to have conversations about structure and function.

Don’t be deterred by the thickness of This Bridge Will Not Be Gray! The pages aren’t textually dense, and the way the story is told is very engaging.  (Even my four-year-old loved listening to it!)  The text is a simple introduction to the bridge-building process and gives a unique window into how and why specific decisions are made during construction.

Next Generation Science Standards Connections:

These engineering performance expectations 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-ETS1-3     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:

  • 3-PS2-1     Plan and investigate 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 bridges.  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
  • 3rd-5th Engineering: Watering Your Garden on Vacation
  • 3rd-5th Engineering: Two Ways to Solve a Problem
  • 3rd-5th Engineering: Testing Prototypes
  • K-2nd  Engineering: All About Bridges
  • K-2nd  Engineering: Be The Engineer

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

Structure and function is the central crosscutting concept that fits well with this challenge. 

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices.  They are developing and using models as they construct their bridges.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations as they test the amount of weight their bridge can hold.  They construct explanations and design solutions when determining why a bridge has failed and deciding how to fix it.  When they share their structures 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, if a bridge with a single layer of popsicle sticks can hold X amount of weight, how much weight should a double layer of popsicle sticks be able to hold?  Why?

Bottom line:  Step out of the way and have fun seeing what bridge designs your students can construct!

Engineering Challenge #2: Rube Goldberg Machines

 Posted by on May 7, 2021  Content Integration Ideas, Content Recommendations, Engineering Challenges, Science Resources  Comments Off on Engineering Challenge #2: Rube Goldberg Machines
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!

Engineering Challenge #1: Hot Wheels and Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee

 Posted by on May 7, 2021  Content Integration Ideas, Content Recommendations, Engineering Challenges, Science Resources  Comments Off on Engineering Challenge #1: Hot Wheels and Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
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!!