For the third Marking Period, I started creating four to five day projects that allow students to experience the design process, also known as the engineering process. A video from Teaching Channel was passed on to me by a colleague, Janissa Nuneville, and I immediately knew I wanted to do this project! Granted it's been a couple years since she showed it to me, but I finally had the opportunity to put it into practice.
I love how the teacher in this class was the facilitator, not the bearer of knowledge trying to cram information into these kids' heads. Instead the learning took place through inquiry; the kids were excited about the project and it gave them a purpose for learning about energy and motion.
I also designed this project with third grade in mind, not middle school. At the third grade level, students are not exposed to concepts like kinetic and potential energy so unlike the class in the video, the transfer of energy was not our focus. Instead, our focus was on the design process. [Update: I also tried this project with Fourth grade and think it is perfect for them.]
The Design Process
How I "Wilburized" it
Designing on a budget
Next I decided that I was going to use the same denominations of money that United States uses so that the buying experience was more realistic. I made $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills in "STEM money". I decided to make actual paper money instead of having the kids work off a spreadsheet to make the project more fun and kinetically pleasing. I priced out the materials kind of randomly, mostly by size and by how many the students would need. In other words, tracks and connectors are smaller and I knew their roller coasters would need a lot of them, so I priced them cheaply at $3 and $5 respectively. The loop base is much larger and the students could only buy two of them, so I made it worth $20.
To determine the budget, I figured out how much it would cost the students if they bought the maximum number allowed for each item. Then I rounded down so that they would NOT have enough money to buy everything. I wanted the students to experience trade-off when deciding how to spend their money. The number I landed on was $200 per group. An awesome moment for me was when one group realized they didn't have enough money to get everything they wanted. They looked so shocked and disappointed. What a great life lesson they were experiencing! Then they started again by talking about what items they needed for their design. "We don't really need two cars..." I overheard one of them saying.