Our Intern Adventure: Part Two – Engineering Design Activities

 In our last blog post we provided an overview of our internship experience at ISA. In this blog post, we will describe our first task of working with ISA staff to design tasks that children would use in the curriculum ISA was developing.

ISA’s curriculum had three separate “story adventures” that each had their own problem for the kids to solve. These adventures included a specific character and problem that would relate to either the character itself, or the habitat. In this story adventure, children had to create a shaker to entertain – and cheer up – Dr. Senso’s friend. We, the interns, were asked to find materials that the children would to use solve the first problem. Our goal was to make the activity simple enough for first graders to understand but challenging enough to reflect the actual engineering process we were learning about in school. Additionally, the activity had to be fun and simple enough to bring out the creativity of the children.

After hearing the vision for the program, we helped to finalize the engineering design cycle that would be the foundation of our guidance for children. We thought about how to explain the concepts to children. We helped to find the materials for the design task for the first adventure. We also identified engineering concepts such as “attach” that would have to be taught to children for them to complete the tasks.  We used our past knowledge from our engineering classes at school to figure out the materials and concepts and to finalize the cycle so everything would reflect proper engineering standards as well as easy for first graders to understand.

Finding the proper materials for the kids to use during their adventures was particularly challenging. We went to the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse to find inexpensive but effective materials. We were limited to using the materials that were available and we had to think about how to craft an activity that would be structured but open to many possible solutions. We perused the center looking for anything that would be a good fit for our predicted solutions. In the end we found a solid set of materials that we all thought would work for the shaker activity.

Once the program happened, we observed the children doing the activity so we could evaluate what worked and what could be improved for the next adventure.  With Dr. Lippman and the ISA team, we came up with a structured set of observation questions that would give us solid data we could use to improve the program. We noted that some children seemed confused and sat for a while before working.  We decided the layout of the room should be changed so children did not have to wait for other groups to finish working before they could start.  We also decided that we could suggest specific strategies to teach children to make the task easier.

After the first adventure, which was a bit of a letdown in terms of creative solutions, we were pleased to see how creative the solutions created by children for the second adventure. The bridges that they built for the second story adventure were incredible. Not only did they meet the criteria of being able to hold the car, but most of them were very aesthetically pleasing. A lot of the groups tried to replicate the pictures of bridges that were spread around the room. I couldn’t believe the kids were able to replicate actual bridges with the sort of limited materials they were working with. This type of creativity carried over to the final adventure and really gave us something to look forward to in future programs.

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