Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saving Humpty Dumpty

The kindergartners study nursery rhymes, so the teachers and I discussed what kind of activity we could find that would tie in.  We came up with the Humpty Dumpty Safety Device.  If Humpty Dumpty had been wearing one of these designs things might not have been too bad!

Within our 45 minute session, we told the children that they must design a safety device for Humpty Dumpty given the set of parts that were provided.  The parts can vary, but this year we included:

  • a straw
  • a paper clip
  • an index card
  • a 4x4" piece of bubble wrap
  • 2 cotton balls
  • 6 inches of pipe cleaner
  • 3 or 4 pieces of styrofoam peanuts
  • and 12 inches of tape.
Last year we included a small cup, and none of our hard boiled eggs cracked.  This year I decided to replace the cup with the index card.  The results did change.  

The designs varied to some degree.  Some groups were more engaged than others.  Often the kids just wrapped up the egg in some form of another without real thought to how to protect the egg.  One of these designs is shown below.  Some of these groups only used a few of their materials.

Other groups used all of their materials and had an approach of putting everything in a somewhat haphazard manner.  Sometimes these designs worked, sometimes they didn't.

 Other groups spent a bit more time thinking about how to protect all of the egg.  The two designs shown below are built sort of like canoes with protection on all sides.  Depending on how well the sides are protected, this design worked reasonably well.

Another common approach was to build something that looked like a paper can.  Most of the time this design was not so successful.  The kids tended to protect the top and bottom of the egg, but neglected the sides which cracked in the drop.

The photo below shows our most innovative design.  The kids wanted to design a parachute.  I had my doubts about its success, however the egg survived with no cracks!

On average of the six groups in each class, only two were able to prevent Humpty Dumpty's demise, and the rest were cracked to some degree.  The kids were all good natured about it, save one girl who did cry when her team's egg was cracked.  However, having the boys cheering for cracked eggs probably did contribute to this situation.  In most classes, the kids cheered for all the teams and were good natured about the whole process.

The wall we used was built from card board bricks and taped down.  We rolled the designs off, and then opened them up to see how Humpty Dumpty fared.  We used boiled eggs, which did cause a few kids some confusion.  Those kids that had not had experience with boiled eggs were confused as to why the yolk didn't run out when they were cracked.

The last innovative design I want to show is the one below.  These kids built a type of spring out of the pipe cleaner and the straw.  The concept worked well, and kind of bounced on the floor, and prevented the egg from cracking.

 Overall, this activity went well.  I think next year I would eliminate the peanuts in favor of a different soft material.  Some of the kids could not help buy shred the peanuts, and I spend 15 minutes or so cleaning up the mess afterwards!  So, I would recommend forgoing peanuts.  As in all of the activities, it is a lot to pack into 45 minutes.  However, this is all the time that their schedules allow.  If we had more time, we would have the kids redo their designs and try again.  We did discuss how engineers design and test and redesign all the time.  That is part of their design and learning process.

The kids love this activity, and it is one that we will keep doing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bird Beaks

This year is quite busy.  I am now running sessions for all six grades (K-5), so I find it hard to take photographs while running the sessions and on a day to day basis, just getting stuff written  down for the blog.  So I apologize being so slow.

We ran a Life Processes session for the third grade a couple of weeks ago.  This is the second time I have run this session.  It certainly went better this year than last.  Here is the relevant section of the third grade standards requirements for Virginia:

The student will investigate and understand that behavioral and physical adaptations allow animals to respond to life needs. Key concepts include
a)     methods of gathering and storing food, finding shelter, defending themselves, and rearing young; and 
b)  hibernation, migration, camouflage, mimicry, instinct, and learned behavior.

I divided this activity into three parts.  There are similar exercises that you can find on the web:  1) Fetch!  "Eat Like a Bird" and 2) The Wonder of Birds.  First, I put out gathered materials that could be used as "food" for the birds.  I try and find what I have around the house, but used:  marbles, small rubber erasers, various sizes of dried beans, rubber bands, puffy balls, small rocks, hacky sack balls, plastic eggs, jar with tubes of water, and old logs, and seed pods.  I scattered the food and put some of the food in a tub of water.

We had the kids divided into groups of four.  Each group was then given an assigned "beak".  The beaks included: fork, spoon, chop sticks, toothpick, water dropper, and a straw.  For the first part of the activity, the kids were directed to come one person per team at a time and get one piece of food.  They were not to try and spend much time, but come up, get the food, and "fly back to their nest" with it.  Each team member had a chance to go.

We then discussed how things went and they were to try and decide what kind of bird their beak might represent.  The general consensus was:

fork:  water bird such as a spoonbill or flamingo that filters its food
spoon:  water bird that scoops its food such as a duck
chop sticks:  can be various birds such as a crow, blue jay, etc.
toothpick: small bird such as a small woodpecker or nuthatch
straw:  not a very effective beak, no real correlation
water dropper:  hummingbird

We then talked a little about how beaks were adapted for specific environments.  Next, we gave the kids an opportunity to design their own beaks.  They could select from the materials provided in the first activity, plus they could use rubber bands.

Once the kids had build their beaks, we reran the previous exercise with their own beaks. 

In the third part of the activity, we cleared the table of most food and left just a few things that the kids tended not to try and pick up and ran the exercise one last time.

We then discussed what happened.  In general, the kids tried to design a beak that allowed them to pick up the most diverse sets of food.  They all tended to pick up things out of the water first.  We then discussed what implications it had when we removed much of the food.  The answers to the food removal causes were:  seasonal changes, weather changes such as massive storms such as hurricanes, droughts, and a dying out of a food source due to environmental changes.  Finally, we discussed what strategies were available to the birds to overcome the food scarcity.  The strategies that we discussed were migration and adaptation.

The kids loved this exercise, and I think they got a lot out of it.  If you are interested, contact me and I can send you the writeup.