Engineer It, Learn It Science and Engineering Practices in Action

Contributor
Science and Children Cathy P. Lachapelle, Kristin Sargianis, and Christine M. Cunningham
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Activity , Article , Informative Text
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Using an Engineering Is Elementary (EIE) unit on aeropsace engineering as an example, the authors give the reader an opportunity to see how science and engineering practices can be integrated into elementary classroom activities.  This article gives snapshots of activities where students are challenged to design parachutes for a spacecraft that will land on a planet with an atmosphere thinner than Earth’s. Although the focus of this article is on creating a classroom culture of engineering while integrating the science and engineering practices, it is important to note that the complete unit "A Long Way Down: Designing Parachutes" can be purchased from http://www.eiestore.com/designing-parachutes-unit.html and is not included in this review. This review is best used as an informational article explicitly showing how the science and engineering practices engage and support students as they explain phenomena. 

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

3-PS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.

Clarification Statement: Examples could include an unbalanced force on one side of a ball can make it start moving; and, balanced forces pushing on a box from both sides will not produce any motion at all.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to one variable at a time: number, size, or direction of forces. Assessment does not include quantitative force size, only qualitative and relative. Assessment is limited to gravity being addressed as a force that pulls objects down.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
To best align to this performance expectation, students should have prior experience with gravity as a force that pulls objects down as well as an understanding that an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted on by an unbalanced force. When you let go of the parachute, what caused it to go down? What caused it to slow it's speed of descent? What would make it go faster? Slower? Another tip to meet this performance expectation is to add the idea of air resistance and gravity as the unbalanced forces in this system (gravity pulling down on the parachute more than air resistance is pushing up).

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
To meet this performance expectation, each group of students creates three parachutes while they plan and carry out investigations. To make this activity more aligned to the performance expectation, allow students time to explore working with variables. Students record data from their investigations and compare their data with other groups to see which solution is the most effective parachute. Students should be given time to redesign their parachutes after they have analyzed their data and compared the data from other groups.

3-5-ETS1-1 Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this Design a Parachute activity, students are challenged to design a parachute for a spacecraft that will land on a planet (criteria) with an atmosphere thinner than Earth's (constraints). Using the engineering practice of asking questions and defining problems gives the students the opportunity to gather information that will help them design an effective parachute. To best meet this performance expectation, students are encouraged to come up with the materials they can use that will give the parachute the best drop speed. It is suggested that the teacher clearly state what the criteria and the constraints of the activity will be.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students carry out an investigation and collect data on how a parachute's design effects its drop speed. Figure 1 in the article gives an example of how students carry out three trials. They test the canopy size (small, medium, large) three times each while keeping the materials and suspension line constant. Students produce data on the speed at which each parachute fell and share the drop speed with the rest of the class. The 'canopy materials' group design their parachutes using three different materials while keeping the size and suspension length constant. It is suggested the students themselves decide on the material they will use for the canopy. It is also suggested students collect their data in a formal journal where they can reflect on any changes they made and how these changes resulted in different outcomes. Students should be given time to follow the design process while working on their parachutes: imagine, plan, create, test and improve.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The guiding question of the third lesson in the unit is "How do the thickness of an atmosphere and the design of a parachute affect the speed of a falling parachute?" In this lesson, the teacher models two atmospheres for the students in two different jars. One jar is filled with air while one is filled with water and food color. The teacher drops the balls into the jars, giving the students the opportunity to describe the phenomena they observe. It is important for the students to question and discuss what they see and reflecting their observations in their journal. The model along with the observations and questioning helps the students understand how an atmosphere affects falling parachutes. The parachutes also serve as engineering models (prototypes) that students can use to describe and explore the phenomenon of falling objects and what changes the speed of those falling objects.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Before students build their parachutes, they are encouraged to discuss and reflect through their own questioning what they know of parachutes. It is suggested that the teacher remind the students of the constraints and the criteria of the activity.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
As students measure and cut circles for parachute canopies and string for suspension lines, it is suggested that the teacher model for the students how they can best use the rulers for measurement of circles as well as the distance the parachutes are dropped from. The parachute design data sheet (Figure 4) asks the students to calculate the mean rate at which the student's parachute falls. Since finding the mean of three numbers is not introduced into the math standards until grade 6, it is recommended that the teacher model how to find the average of the three trials or have the students use calculators (depending on teacher preference) to find the average drop speed.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Prior to this activity, students should have had opportunities to record and analyze observations with force and weight. To best meet this core idea of objects exerting forces on each other the teacher can explicitly question the students during the 'developing and using modeling stage' of the activity. When the teacher simultaneously drops the balls into the two jars and the students observe what happens, the teacher can incorporate the concept of force and weight to help the students understand what is happening as one ball falls slower than the other. Do the balls have the same weight/mass? What is different? How do objects in contact exert force on each other? It may even be beneficial to have a third jar of food coloring mixed with an oil so students can compare how the force changes with the density of the mixture. Students can reflect on their observations in their notebook and explain or diagram why balls/parachutes fall slower through denser materials/atmospheres.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
It is suggested to introduce the unit with a scientists’ and engineers’ meeting where students are introduced to the phenomena of parachutes. The teacher can drop something from over his/her head and ask “What are some possible ways we can slow the falling of this object?". One solution the students might suggest could be parachutes. Allow students the opportunity to engage in student to student discourse. It is also suggested students research parachutes and spacecraft and share their information in a notebook as well as with the class. Possibly show the students a clip of Orion's parachute to engage the students in the lesson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uidzaIU-5Gs

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
To best meet this core idea it is important that the teacher clarify the criteria and constraints of the activity: the students need to design a parachute for a spacecraft that will land on a planet with an atmosphere thinner than Earth's. It is suggested that the teacher give a limited supply of available materials, but the students brainstorm the best materials that they will use from that list. As they test and observe their parachutes and share their findings with the class, groups construct an understanding of how parachutes work and how different design elements impact parachute performance.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
It is suggested to best meet this crosscutting concept the students should be formally writing down in a notebook their reasoning for what caused something to happen. It is important for the students to decipher the relationship between what they did/and or changed and how the parachute's flight was effected. "Why did the parachute go down faster with the smaller canopy versus the larger canopy?", "What caused our parachute to crash to the floor during our second trial?" It is also suggested to have the students reflect on connecting their parachute activities to the demands for new and improved technologies that are needed as we explore space and other atmospheres.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This snapshot article as it stands alone (aside from the EIE unit itself) shows a strong alignment to the science and engineering practices and what they could look like in the elementary classroom. Students are given opportunities to construct, test, and evaluate parachute designs while working collaboratively with their peers as they communicate and problem solve. Through questioning and problem solving students are provided opportunities to investigate the phenomena of how parachutes travel through air. Based on observations and data, students construct an understanding of how parachutes work and how the design of each parachute impacts its performance. This resource illustrates how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can be integrated into the classroom with the students figuring things out on their own as they question, analyze and investigate. Tips are included to guide three dimensional learning.

  • Instructional Supports: Although more instructional supports are available with the purchase of the unit, two parachute design data sheets were included with this article so the reader can get a snapshot of how students are collecting data experienced in the real world as they design their parachutes with a purpose.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Although assessment materials are included with the purchase of the unit, this article focuses on the science and engineering practices and gives examples of formative assessment through the use of questioning to provide feedback to the students to guide their learning. As the students are guided through the unit they are provided opportunities to revise their parachutes based on the the guiding questions from the teacher as well as their own data analysis.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no technological component to this resource.