These are just some of the questions that I challenged some tweens to explore this summer.
I partnered with the Carrollton Public Library to host a couple of hands-on STEAM projects. I have to say that I am over-the-moon impressed with how awesome this library and staff is! They are so organized and have many activities and events. At the same time, there are many worker bees behind the scenes who are setting up other events for months ahead.
June: Design a Parachute
In June, we designed a parachute! I introduced the concepts of air resistance, drag, velocity, and acceleration. We framed the engineering design process around the project, being sure to reinforce the importance of asking why and how and most importantly, ‘what if’ questions. We talked about planning, creating, testing, and improving. With a few select materials from the dollar store, such as pipe cleaners, straws, tissue paper, string, Ping-Pong balls, students gathered together in groups to design a parachute. They were allowed to test any and all designs as often as they wanted, but they had to select one single parachute design for the final drop test! How long can your parachute stay in the air?
July: Design a Cargo Ship
In July, we designed a cargo ship. This one started with a warm-up activity. Each student was given a sheet of foil and they had to find a way to make it sink. When crumpled into a ball, the foil was still afloat. Only when the foil ball was in a very, very compact ball, would it sink. This was how we introduced density, followed by buoyancy and Archimedes’ principle. Then we reviewed the engineering design process, emphasizing testing and improving the design. In this exercise, we allowed Legos, foil, tape, play-doh, and a few other materials. As done previously, we allowed them to create as many designs with the designated materials, but they could only test one design for the final water test! How many grams can your ship hold?
Stop. Collaborate and Listen.
This was not just an exercise in applying engineering principles, but it was also an opportunity for the students to engage with each other, collaborate, and it was even an opportunity to be a leader at times! How can you persuade your team that your concept is worth trying? Some students were very skilled in encouraging, delegating, and leveraging the whole team to get the job done, dispersing various tasks, while other teams struggled, having all team members redundant in their functions.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Some teams were eager to exhaust several iterations, and they found themselves left with only material remnants, scraps, to work with for the final design. This was a good lesson on project spending allocation. Good preparation and planning can help you avoid costly mistakes.
M is for Math
There were all sorts of math principles trapped in these projects! First, we plotted data points and found positive correlations. Next, we converted ounces to grams. Following that, we divided mass over volume. Then calculated velocity using gravity and distance. Lastly, we compared different geometries of our design components.
I knew we would see instances where groups were picking up ideas from neighboring groups and trying to replicate a design or concept, so I was sure to warn them about their neighboring “companies”. “Assign a legal department to protect your intellectual property!” In this case, the legal department is just a 10-year-old bodyguard shielding curious eyes from across the way.
A is for Art
What could have been STEM, we made into STEAM. We needed to consider the Art in all this, and justly so. Once we design the perfect product, we need to entice buyers to purchase it! Will we create a video? A magazine ad? I asked each team to create a marketing advertisement and present it to me to convince me why I should buy their design. A little public speaking and artwork rounded off the technical burrs of our project!
Ugh. A Worksheet?
It was so fun to teach Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math, woven together, as opposed to isolating topics, such as “This is MATH. Do this worksheet.” Instead, we find ourselves dripping math in where it’s supposed to go, such as “Now we need to calculate the velocity…etc” This kind of learning makes sense.
Bravo to the kids who participated this summer to flex their minds, allowing a brief interruption from popsicles, swimming, and doing absolutely nothing and anything.