Stand tall – Pipe cleaner tower challenge

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Yesterday, our Grade 6 students experienced their very first “maker” session. As they walked into our lovely, open, fourth floor terrace space, the curiosity to know what was in store for them, and the eagerness to start off, were evident on all their faces. After a round of introductions, and a little chat on what they thought they would be doing in this space, and what other Cambridge schools in Chennai are doing similarly, we moved on to the agenda of the day.  They were told, that for the day, they would each don the hat of a civil design engineer, working for a big construction company. In groups of three, they were to take under 30 minutes to design and build the highest freestanding structure that they could, using just 10 pipe cleaners and 10 straws as their resources!

After some initial whining about how they could possibly achieve the task without glue or tape, the students were quick to realize the power of the bendy pipe cleaners, and got completely immersed in their task.

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15 minutes into their design, the “engineers” were told that their project had suffered some “budget cuts”, and hence they had to give up resources. Going forward, each team member would be allowed to use only ONE hand!! With one hand held behind their backs, the students came to understand the value of clear and effective communication, not to mention the importance of other body parts as well!   🙂

Just as they were getting comfortable with this new working mode, there was more bad news in the form of a company “takeover”! The “engineers” were told that their company had been bought over by a Chinese firm, and since none of them were fluent in Mandarin, they would henceforth not be able to talk with their team mates!! While all of these challenges did throw a fun element into the task, that was not their only purpose. The students realized that such unforeseen and unfavorable situations could very well arise in a real life job. Once this realization dawned, they complained less, and tried to work around the situation more. In the last 5 minutes, all of these constraints were reversed, and the students got to put in their very best efforts.

THE OUTCOME : Understandably, no two groups came up with the same solution. While certain students  realized the need for a strong foundation  and a tapering design right away, there were other students who used their pipe cleaners with innovation to create bases for their structure. Yet there were others who cleverly used the rubber bands that held their materials together to their advantage! While there was only one winning group that had the highest structure in the challenge, every student walked away understanding the value of team work. They realized that mistakes are nothing but learning opportunities, and confident that they would be able to better their designs if they were given another chance. And THAT, I would say is a class gone well..!

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At the end of the class, I reminded the students about how we had left their question on “what they would be doing in their makerspace” hanging. I gave them a chance to come up with answers for this, based on their first “maker” experience.

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The assorted answers they came up with gave a great deal of idea on what International schools stand for, with particular reference to the standards of Cambridge schools. I must say, they managed to hit the nail on its head!

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