If you stopped by the LPE science lab last Friday, you might have mistaken what you saw for chaos but it was really fifth graders fully engaged and very, very creative.
Let me start at the beginning. Ms. Carnes (LPE fifth grade science teacher) and I decided that the project for my monthly visit would be “Build Your Own Robot Arm“. Since I start my day at the whole school assembly demonstrating something related to the plan for the science lab, I contacted Mr. Hollenberger at LTHS about his robot team. He offered three students, Zach, Nikko, and Meagan for the assembly. They did an excellent job, not only in showing the prototype robot that was used in the design of a larger one, but also in talking about the importance of teamwork in a project like this. Meagan encouraged the girls in the audience to be part of this robot team when they passed through middle school and into high school. (Great message, Meagan!) My thanks to all of them.
Then on to the science lab. I really like the Robot Arm project. It takes an hour or less depending on how much time I take for the introduction; it can be used across a wide range of grades (I’ve even used it with high school teachers); and it’s very “free form”. There are some basic materials that you need like the cardboard strips and tape but you can gather as much as you want to allow creativity to blossom. Here’s the list of materials that I made available this time:
- Cardboard strips – I cut mine 5 cm x 50 cm and made them available with the corrugations running in both directions
- Cardboard rectangles 15 cm x 30 cm
- Lots of masking tape
- Index cards
- Tooth picks
- Small and large bamboo skewers
- Plastic straws
- Trimmer string with diagonal cutters since scissors just won’t work
- Metal hangers – straightened and cut in half
- Brass fasteners
- Small and medium binder clips
- Clothes pins
- Various sizes of rubber bands
- Cable ties
I’ve included a photo of the supply table after the fourth class.
Each student engineering team is provided with paper and pencils to allow them to draw the designs from their brainstorming session. They can look at the materials available to them but not pick up anything until they have an agreed-upon drawing.
With that the creations begin to take shape. We started with two test stations but expanded that to several more since that became a limitation in the test-evaluate-redesign part of the design process. Everyone was fully engaged! Not everyone finished so with the teachers okay, I left the materials and the test stations for later in the day or the following week. I also added a few more elements to the design requirements.
I have found that engineering challenges like this or the simpler Puff Mobile, really encourage teamwork and creativity. While some may view the intermediate stages from the outside as chaos, it really is innovation in progress.
My thanks to Ms. Carnes and Ms. Kordes for allowing me to take over the science lab and for all the great photos that they took.