To study simple machines this fall, science teacher Felicia Kazer developed a series of hands-on explorations that used the engineering-design process to develop students’ problem-solving, teamwork, and science skills. For example, to study levers, teams built catapults that heaved marshmallows over a model Great Wall of China. To study inclined planes, students raced cars down ramps, seeing what combination of factors helped a car go the farthest. And to study wheel-and-axles, groups built waterwheels to hoist weights. Amidst the fun of the challenges, students learned about mechanical advantage, the relationship between effort and distance, friction, and efficiency.
“I saw confidence grow,” Felicia said, “when students realized they could solve a challenging problem, build something interesting and complex, and apply conceptual knowledge.”
Another central goal was to introduce students to the engineering design process where students identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, build a prototype, and refine their solution based on their testing. This iterative process works especially well when a team brings a variety of skills, styles, and aptitudes to the table. With a multifaceted project, students saw that there were lots of ways to contribute—teams needed builders, writers, project managers, artists, technicians, etc.
Felicia said, “I was happy with how they learned how to take an idea from concept to product. In the process, students learned important science and engineering concepts and skills. They also saw that completing a big project hinges on getting the small things right, like keeping the things organized, working together, meeting deadlines, and being mindful of the time and material constraints.”
As a culminating project, student teams designed amusement park rides that incorporated at least two simple machines