Engineering inquiry and cooperative group work

Engineering activities in elementary school?  Yes!

Today we we tackled day 3 of school, I wanted my students to apply some of the concepts we have been talking about--mostly about helping each other and being receptive to help.  I decided to design a little engineering challenge that would require them to stick to a tight schedule, come up a with a plan, try it out, cooperative, test their idea, then reflect on the process...all while relying on each other for help.  As our district is moving toward the Next Generation Science Standards, this is a perfect "kick off".  What engineering standards am I looking at?

Students who demonstrate understanding can:
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

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to the use of evidence in constructing explanations that specify variables that describe and predict phenomena and in designing multiple solutions to design problems.
  • Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.
 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.

What engineering design challenge did we tackle?

I wanted to create a task that was easy to prep, engaging for students, and had a high success rate. 
I think I accomplished it!

What is the situation?

Help Harry.

When I first told my students that we needed to help Harry, they looked at me like I was crazy.  (They will soon see that this is not an atypical situation in my room!)  They started looking around quizzically and you could feel the excitement building.  Finally, I caved.  I introduced them to Harry.

Harry is a puffball (We have had 7 of them perched above our Smartboard and no one has said a word!) who needs a new "perch" so that he can see out over the class more safely.  I told the students that I would give each team a bag of supplies and a schedule.  I showed them their supplies (pipe cleaners, about 12 inches of tape, two muffin liners, a piece of aluminum foil, and two index cards) and told them to think about a nice safe place for Harry to hang out.
Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.
 After 5 minutes of talking and planning without supplies, I set the timer for 15 minutes and watched the teams get to work.
Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.
 I was SHOCKED at the wide range of strategies--and how much "re-engineering" took place so willingly!  We will talk more about that tomorrow...about how important it is to try, test, revise, and test again--whether it is in science, making predictions in reading, and more.
Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.
 This group was SO excited about their plan and couldn't wait to see if Harry would be safe in his perch!  (He was...so no worries)
Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.
 I loved hearing the cheers echo across the room when the 15 minutes was over and I passed out the "Harries" to each team.  Every single team was able to test, modify, and support a Harry!  Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.
 When the testing and celebrating was over, we took some time in teams to evaluate how we did in all the areas we had talked about before we started.  I was pretty pleased to see how honest they were!  This was a great way to kick off a year of self-assessment strategies and to show my students that taking the time to reflect on learning and teamwork is so important.
Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.
It was a great discussion starter, collaboration-teaching, science skill building half hour of FUN!  See what you think...grab the freebie if you are interested and tweak the contents of the supply bag to be whatever you have on hand!  This time, I used a piece of foil, about 12 pipe cleaners, 12 inches of masking tape, two cupcake liners, 2 index cards, and a popsicle stick.  I considered using paper clips, a piece of yarn, a small paper cup, or a small paper plate.  The task can be done using whatever you have!  Want to try it yourself?  Just click the image below to take you to the freebie handout pictured above.

Want to pin this for later?
Teaching engineering concepts is a key part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  This blog post has a freebie activity to help teach students how to work in collaborative teams, how to design a solution to a problem, revise, and retest!  Great low-prep science activity.

Want to see a few more engineering challenges?  Try these!

elementary low prep engineering challenge
CLICK HERE!

elementary low prep engineering challenge
CLICK HERE!

23 comments

  1. Oh my goodness! This is such a brilliant activity! Love it as I know my students would also. Thanks for sharing! Looks like your students had such a great time and I love the task card so students know they are held accountable.

    Shepherd's Shining Stars

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  2. What she said!

    This is a great activity - it gets kids moving around, thinking and planning together, using STEM skills as well as thinking outside the box. All good stuff!

    Thanks for sharing it!
    Marion

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  3. Very cute. I love the group eval form.

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  4. What size pom pom did you use for your Harrys?

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    1. Claudia--I think they were either 1.5 inches or 2 inches. I had them in my cupboard for so long that the bag was long gone!

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  5. Is there a link for the Help Harry task sheet and for the evaluation form? I love this activity. Thanks

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  6. Robin, the link is available when you click the image above...

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  7. Hi there :). I was just wondering, which Year group is this aimed at?

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    1. Students from 8 years old and up can easily do this. My students were 9/10.

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  8. I teach pre-professional teachers and will use your ideas to prepare them to engage their students in STEM skill set activities.

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  9. How many pipe cleaners did you give each group? By the way, love this lesson!

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    1. I can't remember---maybe a dozen? You can do whatever you want. That's the beauty of it!

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  10. Did they have unlimited pipe cleaners?

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  11. Hello! I am curious as to what you do with the Harry's and their perches at the end? Do you place all of them around the room? Does the class vote on their fave? Thank you!

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    1. I took pictures to share and then we repurposed what we could (like the pipe cleaners). The "Harry"s are perched on my desk. :)

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  12. I teach two inclusion 4th grade math and science classes. I just wanted to let you know that I did this activity with both classes last week as our introduction to team work. I used your suggested supplies and added 4 craft sticks and some extra index cards. Due to the nature of my students, I decided to have them work in pairs. I thought this would allow the kids more hands on time. I also thought it would be easier for them to break the ice with one person rather than 4 or more. It was amazing and hysterical! At the end of the 15 minutes, we decided they needed more construction time.I loved that those who were struggling wanted to keep trying to accomplish the task!! As a surprise,I let them make their own warm fuzzies after their challenge.We are still discussing the value of planning, communication, and teamwork. The kids have come up with ways we could improve the challenge for another time later in the year!!! One suggestion from them was to allow them to sketch their plans for reference during construction!! I think I will issue this challenge again mid year with their suggestions. I will use different materials and I will increase the group size. After that Challenge they can reflect on their growth as teammates!! :) This was such a great idea! I don't know who loved it more me or my students! A few parents have already conveyed that I am now the FAVORITE teacher! hahaha Thursday, I told the kids that if they returned their study guide signed Friday, they could place their warm fuzzy on their desk during the quiz they were taking!! Everyone brought back their study guide and the fuzzies watched over them as they worked! THANK YOU!!!

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  13. Love this idea. What did you tell the class about who Helpful Harry was and why he was around the room? I am a school counselor and want to use the activity in life skills. Love hands on classes... they remember a lot more from those types of lessons instead of me just reading a book. THank.s

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    1. I phrased it more along the lines of "I have a teamwork challenge for you today..." than worrying about who Harry was. :) Have fun!

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  14. How did you put the tape that the students could use in the bag so that it wasn't stuck to everything? Thanks

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    1. I have done it two ways--once I walked around and GAVE them a piece of tape. Another year I taped the tape right to the gallon bag the supplies were in and they peeled it right off. :)

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  15. As a supervisor, one of the most important things for me is to keep employees working in teams while enjoying the tasks. Yes, I will be using this little project with adults with Master's degree to demonstrate the importance of working and maintaining effective teams in order to achieve our goals smoothly. I will let you know their reactions and final product. Thanks!

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