Introducing Engineering

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SWBAT mimic an external part of a bird in order to solve a human problem.

Big Idea

Eww! There is something gross under the cafeteria table. Pick it up-- no, you pick it up! How about we mimic a bird's beak to solve the problem of picking up our trash?

Field Guide (Instructional Notes)

In this lesson, we continue unpacking NGSS standard 1-LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.  Wow!  That's a complicated standard!  When we break it down into a manageable progression of lessons, the first step is to define external parts.  Then, we focus on how external parts help animals survive.

In the first few lessons of this unit, we address how birds find food to survive.  We reviewed external parts and labeled external parts of birds in this lesson.  In the next lesson, we learned about beak adaptations that help birds find food based on their needs and habitat.  Finally, we experimented with different beak-like materials. 

Today, I introduce the concept of engineering and how engineers use science to help them solve problems.  The NGSS standards now include engineering, and in fact, the culminating task of this unit will be to mimic an external part of an animal in a way that solves a human problem.  Students don't come to us knowing how to brainstorm ideas, sift through them, and actually create a design.  This lesson models walking through the first few steps of the Engineering Design Process--ask a question, imagine, and plan.  In this unit, the NGSS standard does not ask for students to actually build or create the product.  This is great because it will really help us concentrate on the first few steps of the process, and it also allows greater creativity when there are no bounds on making it actually come to fruition!

In the exploration, students will think of a problem they have with something they don't like to pick up-- bugs at recess, dirty laundry, pencils under their desks (they must really hate this, as my floor is constantly covered!), etc.  Then, I will model the engineering design process in whole-group fashion, with student-generated ideas.  

Take-off (Warm-up)

5 minutes

Today we will address the ideas of what engineers do.  Essentially, engineers use their knowledge of science to design and build solutions to problems.

First, I will ask, "What do engineers do?" to assess prior knowledge.  I have students turn-and-talk to discuss this question.  I am hopeful that as the NGSS is rolled out in kindergarten classrooms, students will come to first grade with some ideas.  However, I designed this lesson based on students coming with no background knowledge.

Next, I set the purpose for watching a video clip.

Friends, this video will help us answer the question, "What do engineers do?"  As you watch, listen for key details that help us know the jobs of engineers.

After watching the video, again I have students turn-and-talk about clues from the video that tell us what an engineer does.

I introduce the Engineering Design Process Graphic.  I created this version with visual clues, which are always helpful for our beginning readers.  I read each step aloud.  Then, I have students re-watch the video.  As the narrator says each step, I move my finger to each circle on the graphic.  This helps students connect what they saw in the video to the graphic we will be using over the next few weeks in this unit.

Soaring to New Heights (Exploration)

20 minutes

Next, in order to connect to the ideas in the standards, I want to introduce a branch of engineering called biomimicry.  Biomimicry is when engineers mimic something in nature to solve a human problem.  

Friends, there are engineers who use nature to solve problems.  Raise your hand if your shoes have velcro.  Wow!  That's a lot of velcro!  Velcro was invented by an engineer who was walking through the woods and had little burrs from plants stick to his dog's furr.  He studied the burrs and saw they had mini hooks, which he mimicked when he made velcro.  The burrs are the hard side, and the dog's fur is the soft side.  (I let them go ahead and rip their velcro apart so they can study it with partners... ew, I hate that sound though!)

Next, I show them a little background on biomimicry.  There are a lot of biomimicry videos out there that are geared for adults.  I definitely don't suggest these!  But here's one that gives just enough background and also offers a challenge that students can learn from nature and make life better!

I introduce this Discovery Education video by saying, "Engineers look to nature to help solve problems.  Check out how engineers are learning from tarantulas!"

Then, I tell students that today we will ask a question and begin to work as engineers.  I point to the "Ask a question" circle on the Engineering Design Graphic.  Our question today is, "How can we mimic (or imitate) bird beaks to help us pick things up?"  I post this question on my whiteboard.  I say that we must first define the problem.  I ask them to turn-and-talk to make a list of things we might like help picking up.  You can also provide a list instead.  (I'm sure the cafeteria workers at your school would suggest picking up trash under the middle of the tables!)  Since my school focuses on being student-centered, I let students vote and pick the item that they would like to work on as a class.  Here is our list of gross items!

The next step in the process is imagine the possibilities.  I want students to think of which beaks might help us the most, and how we might use a beak as a grabber.  What is important is that students discuss the possibilities here.  I post the pictures of all of the bird beaks we have been studying over the past few days.  Then, students turn-and-talk to answer these questions: Do we need a long beak, like a stork, or a shorter beak to pick up the item our class has chosen?  Should we have a curved grabber, like a parrot?  Or would a scoop-like beak be better?  Most importantly, can students defend their choices?  Are they citing evidence from the texts or the experiment about which shape beaks helped the most?  It is helpful to have a copy of the National Geographic article and the Bird Beak Experiment Data handy during the discussion, to encourage students to refer back to it.

I call on students to share their thinking and justification.  I promote students listening to one another and then commenting.  For example, I ask for student feedback by saying things like, "Do you think Jacob's ideas make sense? Does Jacob's idea match what we learned about ___?"

Lastly, I model the process of picking the best idea and drawing a plan.  I pick an idea that is a combination of a few student ideas, and I think aloud that students changed my original thinking.  There is no true best idea, and I also explicitly state this to students.  The best idea is one that works because we have a good reason that it will work.  I draw a diagram on the screen of my grabber, add labels, and add a descriptive sentence, "I used a curved end because I know that curved ends will help me hold on to the round marbles, like a parrot holds round nuts."  I ask students what features they see in my plan: a drawing, labels of the materials, and a description.  I ask, "How do the features help you understand my thinking?"  (For example, the labels give you more information and what materials you need, the description tells my evidence/connection to nature, and the drawing helps you visualize the item.)

Here is the evidence of our discussions, which was displayed as we worked through this on the whiteboard.

Landing (Closing)

5 minutes

Students are literally chomping at the bit (or maybe chomping at the bird feeder) by this point to draw their own idea.  I create a quick checklist on the board for the three text features I'll be looking for: a drawing, labels of materials, and a description.  Then, students draw their creations in their science journals.  My students use marbled composition notebooks, but really, you can use any lined paper with space to draw.

When students finish drawing, I have them leave the papers on their desks.  Then, we all push in our chairs and circulate to see everyone else's ideas.  After about 2 minutes of a "gallery walk," students return to their own seats.  I ask, "Did you see any new ideas that you thought were really good as you walked around?  Who do you think did a great job and why?"  These discussion questions come right back to the design process step of improving their own design with new ideas.  I then give 3 or 4 additional minutes for them to add any new ideas.

Lastly, I ask, "Friends, how were we engineers today?  What do engineers do?"  This brings us back to the guiding question for the session and also brings us back to the Engineering Design Graphic that we'll keep up throughout the remainder of the unit.