Monday, December 15, 2014

Learning the Engineering Design Process in Kindergarten: Just Add Mud and Sticks

My apologies for not posting lately. Curriculum writing takes a lot of time.  As described earlier,  the first kindergarten unit focuses on "Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: Animals, Plants, and Their Environment".  The storyline that evolved centered on our native insect, the Baltimore Checkerspot, and its relationship to the White Turtlehead.  Using these two species as the backdrop, the needs of plants and animals are experienced.

Toward the end of the unit, we delve into how plants and animals change the environment to meet their needs.  As the Turtlehead lives in wetlands that are sometimes created by the actions of beavers, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to tie some of the dimensions together.  Reaching back to my previous life as an outdoor educator, I resurrected a lesson I used to do with fifth grade students.  Construct a beaver dam to hold back as much water as you can.  When I first wrote this lesson, I figured on a squeamish response to the traditional materials of mud and sticks.  To this end, I wrote it so students would use clay and wooden coffee stirrers.    You will imagine my surprise when all of the field test teachers insisted on using mud and sticks.

Earlier today, one of the schools in the system decided to give this lesson a try.  I forgot how much fun this lesson was and had fun watching many of these students experience the wonder of mud for the first time.  Beyond the absolute engagement mud and sticks present, it was very clear from the first part of the lesson, that the students understood the connection of beavers to the Checkerspot.  What's more, they applied the engineering design process.


Refinements centered on adding sticks vertically.  Some of the dams looked like porcupines 
Note the tarps on the floor.  Have to keep the custodian sane.  

 Many hands make mud work.

Students had to imagine what their dam would look like in order to develop a plan prior to building.  Shortly after this, the interactive notebooks had to be put away to avoid being encrusted by mud.