Tyler, Nathan and Owen eagerly unpack their bag labeled Squirrel Supplies on the library carpet. They can’t wait to get to work! In their minds’ eye, they see the tower they are going to build out of cardboard tubes, popsicle sticks and wooden dowels. It’s going to catapult birdseed (represented by a ping-pong ball) over lasers (tape) directly into a bird feeder (a bucket).
This is just one of the many STREAM challenges led by Librarian Jeanne Hand for Katonah Elementary School students. Each one taps the students’ problem-solving and design skills and shifts everyone’s creativity and collaboration into high gear.
This project began by all second graders reading “Those Darn Squirrels” by Adam Rubin, a hilarious story that set the stage for the problem to be solved.
Each student had time to think about how they would approach the challenge as well as share their ideas with a small group. The teams came to the library with their design in hand.
Tyler, Nathan and Owen weren’t the only group with an exciting solution. Other groups set out to build tunnels and ramps through which the ping-pong ball would fly into the bucket. One trio of students drew a chain reaction that would drop the ball onto a spoon, which would flip and launch the ball into the bucket. Each team was busy building, testing and adjusting.
Seconds before the 15-minute mark, there was a cheer from Tyler, Nathan and Owen—their ping-pong ball sailed into the bucket! Hand went over to look. Their successful design was very different than what they initially thought they would build.
At the end of the class, Hand asked the students who ended up with a solution that was different than what you planned. Almost every hand went up. “Why?” she asked.
“They kept falling apart,” said the students. “The plans didn’t work.”
“You tested it and then made adjustments as a team," said Hand. “Great job. That's what engineers do.”