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Models and design: the science of how things work

The fifth graders in Mrs. Michelle Johnson, Mrs. Danyah Hill, Mrs. Kristen Avant, and Mr. Jordan Faulk’s classes have been working on a science unit called Models and Design for about six weeks. This unit has been hands-on from the beginning to the end! Students have built black boxes, humdingers, go-carts of all shapes and sizes, and will soon try their hands at model airplane designing. Whoever said science is no fun?!

In Mrs. Johnson’s room, the fifth graders have been thinking as scientists do, and trying to find out what makes various objects work. Sometimes, like when creating black box models, students could only use their sense of hearing and touch because they couldn’t open the example box. A black box is something that we know works, but do not know exactly how (outer space for example). Other times, students could only use their sense of hearing to get an idea in mind and then had to create a “humdinger” with available parts (wooden dowels, D cell battery, motor with wire leads, paperclips, tape, a bell, rubber bands, and a battery cell holder). A humdinger is a compound machine that hums when you pull a string and dings when you let go of the string. After building a humdinger using their imagination, only two out of the sixteen groups were able to create a functioning humdinger. The students were then given instructions and a visual of what the actual machine should look like. Surprisingly, the same two groups struggled to construct a functioning humdinger following the instructions!

Not only did students get a chance to use their senses to create models, they also used their background knowledge from the other fifth grade teachers to design roller coasters in Mrs. Johnson’s room. The students went to www.funderstanding.com and clicked on the coaster link to manipulate a virtual roller coaster. This site allowed the students to adjust speed, friction, gravity, mass, and incline in order to create a perfect rollercoaster. After many failed attempts, students began to realize their mistakes and made connections to what they had been talking about in their other science classes. Once the connections were made, the roller coasters created were outstanding! The final activity in Mrs. Johnson’s class was an arm wrestling demonstration between students and Mrs. Johnson to show balanced and unbalanced forces at work. Students learned how the forearm acts as a lever and the elbow acts as a fulcrum. When two forces (arm strengths) are balanced, neither side will go down, but when the forces are unbalanced, one arm goes down and a winner is declared. Discussions about the sizes of football players also came up to give them a real-life connection to how forces are at work in our daily lives.

Go-carts aren’t just for riding around! Fifth graders got a chance to be their own design stars to create various carts for several different “test runs” in Mrs. Avant’s room. One cart had to be built for speed, one was for distance, and one was for carrying the most weight. Students used Knex building pieces as the simple machines needed to build the carts. Forces such as friction and gravity, as well as mass, acceleration, and momentum were studied as they had to determine why or why not their cart would pass each test. Using their hands to actually build the carts really helped some students make great connections and understand how scientists create real-life vehicles today.

In Mrs. Hill’s room, technology was used to show fabulous United Streaming videos about Newton’s Laws of Motion. The videos are yet another way that really helped the students make connections to all they had learned so far and how to apply it to their daily lives. Sometimes seeing the video makes all the difference in the world when trying to learn such hard concepts such as inertia and momentum!

In Mr. Faulk’s room, simple machines were the main topic. Students walked away with excellent understanding of how each machine worked and how it could be combined with another to make a compound machine. The final activity the students will be doing with him is to make paper airplanes and do “test runs” with them. They will be using their knowledge on gravity, speed, friction, and inertia to create the best airplane design. The best airplane will be able to fly the furthest without crashing. Now, that sounds like fun in fifth grade! When else are you going to be allowed to make paper airplanes in school and get by with it?


Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Written by: Michelle Johnson, 5th grade teacher
Posted: Mar 10, 2011 by Jennifer Williams

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