Engineering is one of many science units taught in our school. Mr. Wadness, a 5th grade teacher, teaches the Design Process, that we use to create the projects he assigns. We hope you enjoy our talk with Mr. Wadness.
Do you use filters? If you answered no, chances are that you are wrong. Filters are everywhere, from coffee filters to water filters. Filters help remove nasty particles, twigs and leaves from any liquids or gasses. An extraordinary thing about engineering is that it helps humans address problems by designing and developing solutions. Human beings need water to survive. In some areas of the world, water is either scarce, polluted or both. Engineering is a science which can be applied to design water filters to clean water.
To begin the science unit we were read a book called Salila. It was about a river in India called Ganga Ma [Ganges River]. It was polluted by bacteria so people who drank from it got sick. One day when Salila was walking home from school she noticed a frog that had been sickened by the oil in the water. She noticed the rainbow sheen of the oil sitting on the water. This made Salila want to design a water filter and to stop the pollution in the river.
Our job was to filter out dirt, tea leaves and cornstarch. We were given these materials: sand, gravel, cotton balls, screens, paper filters, filters holders, and 2 containers. After that we set to work, designing filters. Some people used only screens, others used all of the materials. To measure the cleanliness of the water from each of our tests we had a rating scale. Our rating scale was comprised of 5 bottles, numbered 1-5, 1 being the dirtiest, 5 being the cleanest (tap water). We all had to use a filter holder, (which is half of a soda bottle with a cap with a hole the diameter of a pencil drilled through it) to hold the different materials used when testing our filters. Then we tested them.
We collected 2 cups, 1 for dumping the dirty water into the filter and second to collect the clean or dirty water coming from the filter. Then we started testing the filters by pouring dirty water into the top of the filter. This went through our filter contraption. The filter either cleaned out the major particles or changed the color to look healthier. Some filters got 4’s, some were 3’s and almost none were 2’s. Rarely ever 1’s. Some of the groups had screens on top and cotton balls on the bottom, others had unrolled cotton balls on top and screens scrunched up in the neck. Dr. Reinemann was our mentor making suggestions. Every group had different colored water.
Finally, they came up with some ideas for trying to sell their filter. Dr. Reinemann did 3 example presentations. One where she was like a hippy, another where she was really silent and scared-looking and third where she talked nice and clear and had a good descriptive poster.
First we made a “Brain Frame” (a graphic organizer) and filled it in with ideas. Then we made a rough draft for our poster. The poster was an assessment, which included a picture, good features and an explanation about the filter to convince people to buy your filter and a business card to take home. Some of the groups names were “Olympus Water Filters” or ” Epic Water Filters”. Some of the groups were convincing in their presentation. Others were awesome in their speech. Some people acted as if it were a commercial. Others just thought it would be fine to do a normal presentation. At the end of each presentation, each group went up to Dr. Reinemann and gave her their group business card.
As engineers, we used the Engineering Design Process in developing our water filter. The first step was “Ask”, in which we asked how to make the best filter. The next step was to “Imagine” what materials would be needed and what the contraption would look like. “Plan” the order for the materials within the filter. The fourth step was to “Create” the filter we had imagined. The final step was to “Improve” the filter we had created in the areas that could be improved.
Now, can you imagine a world without engineers to design water filters?
Simple Machines! Technology! Structures! What do all these words have in common? They’re all types of innovations, which use engineering. Dictionary.com defines engineering as “the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants.”
Engineering is one of the fourth grade science units. We began this unit with a mystery. Groups of students were given bags with different items inside. Each bag had several different items. Students were asked to reach in and identify an object inside the bag, without looking at it. Once the object was identified, the item was removed from the bag and the group determined the technology and the problem it solved. For example; an item might be a small plastic pencil sharpener. The technology is a wedge and a screw; the problem it solves is to sharpen the lead of a pencil.
There are many different kinds of bridges in the world. We learned about some types such as, suspension, beam, deep beam, and arch bridges. In groups of 3-4 students, we worked on building one of these forms of bridges or combinations of bridges. Each group had the following materials: popsicle sticks, straws, string, paper, masking tape, and 6 large books. After the bridge was built, we had to test the bridge for strength, weight and weather. To test for strength, we tried to drive a toy car back and forth across the bridge three times. Washers and bolts were used to test the weight the bridge would hold; the expectation was that the bridge should hold 24 washers and 8 bolts. The final test given to each bridge was a simulation of an earthquake by shaking the bridge. 5 of the 6 groups were successful with their bridge construction.
We finished the unit by experimenting with simple machines, such as hammers, drills, screws, and screwdrivers. Following this we had to take a written exam.
Mrs. Wasik returned to Chickering School this year from a leave of absence. Prior to her leave she taught the Oceanography Science Unit in fourth grade. This year she is teaching the Engineering Science Unit. We were curious as to which unit she liked better. In Oceanography, she loved learning about the adaptations of different sea creatures. She discovered that technology is not just computers but “could be anything that solves a problem, such as a chair”. After she taught the Engineering Unit for the first time, she has decided she likes both equally.
We asked her what she wanted the students to learn about engineering. She wants everybody to know that technology is anything that solves a problem and that engineers both design and improve technology. Another question was what are all the fourth grade science units. The science units are: Plants, Sound and Light, Oceanography, Rocks and Minerals, and Engineering as determined by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
We wondered how she thought the students did collaborating together building their bridges. She said the students learned to listen to each other, to share ideas, and to encourage everyone to participate in the group. As the unit continued, Mrs. Wasik felt that the students improved more and more as they learned to work together.
If you like working in groups and using your hands to build things then this 4th grade science unit is for you!