Minds in Bloom is happy to present Wendy Goldfein and Cheryl Nelson of Get Caught Engineering, an integrated hands-on engineering program, with their post on finding room in your classroom for Engineering. Enjoy!
When we first decided to develop an engineering program for our school, our administrator was very supportive. However, he only had one request: “Please don’t tick off the staff!” We knew that our greatest challenge would be proving to the faculty that this could be a great addition to what they were already teaching, not an “add-on” to their already overloaded program. As we began our slow roll out of STEM lessons that could be integrated into the curriculum, our search for and creation of integrated engineering lessons began.
Over the years we have found ways to integrate engineering lessons into history, math, health, art, and, of course, science. Perhaps surprisingly, literature has been our biggest STEM integration success due to the fact that literature is such an integral part of the elementary school curriculum, and usually, teachers have a large block of time for language arts. Literature has the potential to present situations that can challenge students’ imaginations. Stories can serve to encourage student to begin to problem solve, to generate design proposals, and to make connections to engineering.
- What if you could help out the characters? Discuss the plot and characters of the story. Can we improve the situation in the story? The Three Little Pigs – Can we help the pigs keep their house upright? Using Popsicle sticks, straws, or toothpicks for materials and a hair drier to represent the Big Bad Wolf, have the students design a house that won’t blow down. The same lesson could be adapted for the Wizard of Oz and tornadoes.
- What if the story continued? Brainstorm what some of the natural consequences from the story would be. What could have happened? The Three Bears – What happened when Goldilocks told her mother about her encounter with the bears? She definitely wasn’t happy! Time for the students to develop a new chair for baby bear out of rolls of newspaper. Beauty and the Beast – Wouldn’t the village want to celebrate after the beast changes back to a prince? Engineering a confetti launcher will provide an appropriate festive touch to the story. Empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls become launchers and leftover tissue paper can be confetti.
- What if the characters had better materials or tools? Is there an item mentioned in the story that we can redesign or improve? Charlotte’s Web – Charlotte had amazing webs. Can we do that? Using string and a wire hanger, students can engineer a web and test its strength. Rapunzel – Wouldn’t we all get tired of people using our hair for a ladder? What else can we create that would help her out? Can we use our knowledge of pulleys to engineer an improved system to get in the tower?
- What if the characters had different tools to solve their problem? What problems do the characters encounter? Can we develop a product, a tool, or a system to help them? The Gingerbread Man – What if the Gingerbread Man had encountered a sailboat or even a boat with a propeller to help him get away? This is a problem that could be solved by students of varying ages as they solve the Gingerbread man’s problems by engineering boats. Need a river in the classroom? No problem. Get an 8-foot plastic rain gutter from the hardware store, cap the ends, add water, and voila! You have a river for testing! Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack’s stress level would have been lowered considerably if he had had a few tools to help him. What if he had a tool to grab the golden egg? Students can be challenged to engineer a mechanical extension in order to grab something from a distance.
- What if the story ended differently? Think about what happened after the story ends. Cinderella – Cinderella doesn’t want to live with her in–laws! Using recycled cardboard; create a new castle for Cinderella. Start adding criteria such as size, turrets, and a drawbridge, and you have a review lesson for math and simple machines. Alice in Wonderland – If Alice wanted to return to have tea with the Mad Hatter, can the students create a ramp and slide that will allow her to drop a specified distance in a certain amount of time?
- What science or math can we connect to the story? Peter Pan – If we have run out of fairy dust to help us fly, why not create a prototype for a zip wire? Force, motion, acceleration, and gravity will all be explored as it is engineered and tested.