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Upper El (Mr. D): Engineering and Exploration

Strap in because I may or may not have fallen behind on my blog writing and may or may not have a lot to catch you up on. Ok, I did, and I do!

First is that we finished making our food webs! They came out great, and I love the effort everyone put into these. Next week, we'll use these food webs to conclude our discussion on carrying capacity.

We've also made great headway with our science fair. Students are finished or really close to finishing their experiments at home. This week we began working on our reports which will help us make our boards for presenting to the school on March 11th.

The main thing that's happened over the last couple of weeks has been our engineering project:


Working in groups of 3, students had to design a tower to hold a marble 18 inches off the ground. The tower had to be able to withstand the high winds of a hurricane and the shakes of an earthquake. The marble had to be "inside" surrounded by paper. Their only materials were straws, masking tape, and paper.

Oh, and each bit of material they used had a cost to it. The goal was to make a successful tower that remained standing even with the winds and quakes and make it with the least amount of "money" as possible. I kept a spreadsheet to document each straw, each sheet of paper, and measurements of their starting diameter and ending diameter of their team's role of tape.

Each team started by coming up with a team name and making a "mediator flag." Teamwork can be hard sometimes, and if a student felt like their team needed mediation, they could raise their flag. If the flag is raised, all production had to stop on the project until I came over and we resolved the conflict. I pointed out, though, that Mr. Derek can only be in one place at a time, so it benefits each team to learn to resolve their issues together.

Then, the next day, students were off to design and build. Now, I'm thinking that this project will take many days. Yet, some groups finished in a day! Some groups then went on to make a second design.

Our official testing happened this week on Monday and Tuesday. We took some time to first learn about earthquakes and the Richter Scale. We learned how each level up on the scale corresponds to ten times more shaking and nearly 32 times more energy released! Then, we read about hurricane categories which are based on sustained wind speed. Finally, we started testing.

Each team earned points for how close their projects could get to a giant fan, each two feet closer corresponding to a hurricane at a category higher. Every team made it to category five, earning 120 points. Then, it was time for the earthquake test. I created levels to go along with the Richter scale and for this. Students enjoyed my demonstration of each level, culminating in level 9-9.9, the "can't-possibly-survive-this-level" level. Marbles flew around the room to excited cheers.

Each level up earned 20 points for that team. Finally, we subtracted the cost of their design from their total points to get a grand total. The winners were The Bandits, who each went home with a slinky!

The following day we spent some time discussing the whole project. We talked about the concept of "center of mass" and dove into examples of great teamwork. This was a really fun project!


When the weather got sunny and warm after all the snow, we had to take part of the afternoon for "field notes." If you remember, this is when we go into the woods, and students find a plant to sketch and then write down a detailed description of the plant or flower or something else that's connected to our theme of life. The goal is to discover and document the life around us like Darwin.

Ok, it's also a great opportunity to get outside and introduce a little extra play in the day. After we spend time on our field notes, students get to explore the woods and play.

Here's some fun ones from recess time, including a new seesaw built by a few of our Upper El students!

Today, one of the students brought a magnifying glass to lunch. And, so began the desire to burn things. With some direction and a few safety notes by me, students set themselves up on a stone. They spent most of the lunch trying to light a few leaves on fire. If they did, a student had to be at the ready to stomp it out, which they did promptly.

While they worked, we talked about Radiant Energy, Thermal Energy, and how to focus the beam from the magnifying glass. We talked about how the lenses of a magnifying glass relate to the lenses in a telescope.

As the kids said, "We can't get in trouble. This is science." Oh, I hope they're right! Lol.

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