Science! This week the students put on their figurative lab coats and goggles and became scientists!
The day began with our instant challenge – designing a ping pong ball launcher. Using craft sticks, elastics, straws, paper cups, paper clips, index cards, and some string, the students had to design a mechanism that would launch the ball as far horizontally as possible. I encouraged the students to be as resourceful as possible. There was also some restrictive criteria though. The launcher could not be hand held but could rest on a surface. The ping pong ball had to be mechanically launched; it could not be thrown or blown. A minimum of 3 materials had to be used and had to aid in the operation of the device. The materials could not be decorative. Points were assigned based on the distance the ball went, how well the teams worked together, and how many materials the students used over 3. Again, any material used over 3 had to be a functional, not decorative. After we tested the devices and compiled the scores, we reflected on the activity. I asked the students what resources they had used in their design. I was looking to see if anyone Googled the design. Ah well, maybe next time!
After the challenge, we read a book called “Ada Twist, Scientist”. The book told the story of young Ada Twist and her journey to becoming a scientist, much to her parent’s chagrin. The book discussed the traits of a great scientist – asking questions and being curious about everything! After, we discussed what a student’s image of a scientist was and the different types of disciplines in Science. This lead us to talking about water-based science. We discussed how some countries in the world did not have clean drinking water and that Canada was lucky to have an abundant source. We followed up by watching a video about Shoal Lake 40. The video detailed how Shoal Lake 40 supplies Winnipeg with clean drinking water, yet the community itself has not had drinkable water for 17 years. After watching the video we had a discussion about the situation. The students were surprised that there were communities in Canada that did not have drinkable water. They were asked what they could do to help these communities. We settled on creating a water filter!
Students were instructed to use Google to assist in designing a water filter. They had to search for a filter that would use coarse and fine gravel, coarse and fine sand, activated charcoal, cheesecloth, cotton balls, and elastic bands. They had to post their designs in Seesaw and ensure they were sketched and labelled. After about 15 minutes of planning, I played an alarm sound and asked students if they really thought it would be this easy! The worried looks were priceless! The students were then informed they had to randomly select a package that represented a country. Each country would have a different budget. The budget was represented in Monopoly money. Each country also had a set of instructions detailing how to build a filter with the given materials. The instructions would have varying degrees of legibility based on the country. The countries were USA, Canada, Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda, and Ethiopia. The budgets ranged from $1000 for USA down to $20 for Ethiopia. Once the students received their country packages chaos ensued. Students with limited budgets were very upset and those that had more money were pleasantly shocked. The social interactions were interesting to watch as no criteria was given pertaining to what the students could do with the money. In some groups USA and Canada hoarded their money. Other groups went straight to donating money to the less fortunate. Once the activity was complete, were did a gallery walk of the filtered water and discussed how the different designs impacted the cleanliness of the water. We also talked about how it felt when the country packages were opened. Most students developed a sense of empathy for the less fortunate countries.
We conducted the activity a second time, and each group received identical amounts of material and were challenged to build the best water filter possible. We had talked about some design challenges, such as the cheesecloth becoming more porous if the bottles were squeezed and allowing more particulate through. The students then compared their filtered water to the first trial and to other groups. We discussed what we did differently this time.
At the end of the day, the students reflected on their learning. This time, we went deeper into our thinking. The students were given writing prompts such as “I analyzed…”, “I evaluated…”, “I modified…” or “I learned…” to help their thinking.