Engineering Fun!

News from the 5th Grade class

November 1, 2021
Our wild and wacky Halloween Friday provided the perfect time to practice teamwork around a defined problem. Students teamed up in partnerships to create “bone bridges.” They were given a selection of materials (craft sticks, pipe cleaners, Q-tips, tape) and specific criteria and constraints:
CRITERIA  (requirements)
CONSTRAINTS (limitations)
Bridge must be at least one inch above the build surface.
Use only the materials provided.
Build the bridge as long as possible.
Build Time: 30 minutes
Bridge must measure wide enough to hold a car.
Bridge should hold as many cars as possible.
Cars should not fall through your bridge gaps.
The teams jumped into the activity with enthusiasm. Their growing maturity was evident as they took the first minutes to talk through a plan and share the knowledge they had. What shape is strongest? How can we make it stronger and longer? What will each team member do? The time constraint added an element of urgency.
When the time was up and it was time to evaluate the bridges, students avidly watched as we measured each bridge and tested its capacity to hold “cars.” Some bridge designs were stronger than others. Some were long, but not strong. Some were strong, but rather short. Some bridges were incomplete; we talked about how this is sometimes how the design process goes, in every field. All teams agreed that they had learned something about bridges during the activity and had ideas about how they’d improve their bridges the next time. All teams worked hard, collaborated, adapted, and stayed flexible.

Testing the strength and length of our bridges…

Next week, we will reflect on the processes that the teams experienced: the collaboration process, the planning process, the design process. What would they do differently? What worked, and what really didn’t? We will also learn a little bit about bridges and some of the science behind them. Then they’ll try another round of bridge creation to apply what was learned and improve on previous designs.
The science standards that guide instruction at PNA provide a sequence of content to be learned, but they also include the critical Science and Engineering Practices: the methodology of science. How do we identify a problem? How can we analyze the problem using practical and analytical thinking? The engineering standards call for students to be “makers:” thinkers who apply their knowledge of the world to solve problems and find solutions.
Collaborative, hands-on learning doesn’t have to involve long periods of time or elaborate projects. A small 45 minute task such as this is an easy way to mimic the challenges that real engineers face and allow students to apply their creativity and ingenuity. It’s not a bad way to spend a wacky Halloween day either!