This week, I got to meet with my younger group of “makers” from Grade 5 who were following IB board curriculum. The activity that I had planned for them was going to be “fun”, no doubt, but also a bit challenging. This time, it was not just about building something, but also about getting it to work a certain way! As the students walked in, I was both excited and nervous to see how the session would pan out.
Once everybody settled down, I started out by asking them if they had ever played angry birds. Ofcourse I expected a resounding yes, but what I didn’t expect was for every single kid’s face to light up the way it did then. 🙂
Now they were all excited and tuned in, and very eager to know what was in store. Following a little chat on how “angry birds” works, what a catapult is, and what makes it launch projectiles in the air, I introduced the day’s challenge to the students.
In groups of 3, students were asked to design their very own catapult, capable of slinging a small object into the air. The team whose projectile travelled the furthest, would be declared the winner. Each group was given an assortment of items :
- A paper cup
- A plastic spoon
- 12 ice-cream sticks
- 8 rubber bands
- 2ft of adhesive tape
- 2ft of string
- A piece of aluminium foil to scrunch up and use as their test projectiles.
While the students had the free hand to choose any of the items, they were encouraged to use as many as they could.
The teams were given 15 minutes to get to know their materials, brainstorm ideas, and zero in on one idea that they would see through to completion. I had prepared a simple worksheet that the students could use to pen down their ideas. While some groups used all of their time to discuss and draw ideas, some felt that jumping right into the build was the way to go. By the end of the brainstorming session, most groups had at least one idea to go with. After stressing to the students that a drawn out idea is not one that is set in stone, rather one that can be modified well into the building as well as testing phase, I let them go on to making their designs.
It was very interesting to watch the students make their designs. There were some groups that realised very quickly that their idea wouldn’t work at all, and ended up changing it. There were others who had a tough time getting their materials to connect the way that they had imagined, and had to come up with various workarounds. There were still others who completely lost their group dynamics, and started working on their own individual designs. The latter became a challenge in itself, as each group had limited material resources. The students were encouraged to keep testing their designs periodically, so that there wouldn’t be any last minute surprises.
After about half an hour of building, it was time to put all their catapults to test. We marked out a starting line from which each team would launch. Each group would have three trials, and the best distance would be chosen. It was exciting to see all their designs in action, not to mention all the cheering and team spirit!
All, but one team had relied completely on the flexibility of their plastic spoon to launch their projectile, thereby yielding very similar sling distances. The one team that had tapped in on the rubber-band’s elastic properties as well, emerged as the winner. When this realisation dawned on the students, they wanted to start all over again. 🙂
While the class went quite okay, there are a few things I might want to try out differently and make my session one of the talked about among the IB board schools in Chennai at the least. Twitter should help me get there I guess. 🙂
- First, I might consider activities that require students to work individually. During class, there were some students who took the lead and kept working on their ideas, while there were others who completely lost interest and took a back seat, and yet others who went all out to distract the rest of the class! While there is immense benefits to group work, I feel that work that keeps each one of the students busy might be a better way to start out.
- There was a lot of dissatisfaction when I announced the randomly picked groups. Some of the students had visibly given up even before they started. Even though random grouping has its advantages, and is probably the way of life, I might consider letting my students choose their group mates just till they warm up enough to the idea of “making“. A comfortable group setting might help bring out more creativity, and yield better outcomes.
- I gave the students a complete free rein when it came to thinking up designs and choosing materials. There is no doubt that this approach is supreme, and truly tests a student’s creativity. However, when time is limited, some pointers in the form of example designs might be very beneficial, to get the ball rolling, and the creative thoughts flowing.