January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Bridging Science and Math with Classroom Engineering

Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Kristin Sargianis

The Next Generation Science Standards, recently adopted in California, highlight the connections between science and engineering. As children design solutions to engineering challenges, they naturally apply their science content knowledge and engage in science practices. However, engineering also provides meaningful opportunities for children to apply what they are learning in math.

EiE

Use authentic measurement and data analysis opportunities to integrate science, engineering, and mathematics in your classroom! Photo taken by Engineering is Elementary staff.

Recently, the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum project has fielded quite a few requests from teachers looking to use engineering activities to help address the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. To meet this demand, our team has developed a number of different integrated engineering activities. The “Engineering Sailboats” activity described below serves as a great example for how science, math, and engineering can be integrated in meaningful ways. We hope it inspires you to think about how to authentically integrate mathematics into the science and engineering YOU teach!

Engineering Sailboats

In this activity, students are challenged to engineer sails that can “catch the wind” and push a model sailboat. The “boat” is modeled using a foam raft attached to a track made of fishing line and a table or box fan generates the“wind.”

Video taken by Engineering is Elementary staff

Use authentic measurement and data analysis opportunities to integrate science, engineering, and mathematics in your classroom

Students first explore the materials available for their sail designs: tissue paper, index cards, felt, aluminum foil, plastic grocery bags, wax paper, cellophane tape, and coffee stirrers. After thinking about the properties of each material, the students make predictions about how well each material will (or will not) catch the wind. Working in small groups, students design and create sails out of any combination of the above materials—their only constraint is that they must use a craft stick “mast” to anchor their sail in the foam raft.

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Before testing, a class discussion guides students to think about how they will measure the distance their sails travel down the fishing line track. The discussion encourages students to think critically about which units of measure and measuring tools (e.g., ruler, yardstick, meter stick, measuring tape, etc.) might be most appropriate for collecting these data. Students discuss and agree upon which unit (and tool) they will use to measure the distances their sails travel. Students subsequently test their sails, measure how far the raft travels down the track, and record their results on a line plot. Groups work to redesign and improve their sails based on their observations. They test their second designs and measure and record their results on the same line plot.

This authentic measurement experience, along with the resulting line plot, gives students an opportunity to analyze data in a meaningful way by answering such questions as, “Did your second sail design travel farther than your first sail design? How much further?” Then, to conclude the activity students return to their earlier predictions about which materials will work well to catch the wind and use their data to draw some conclusions about which properties of a material affect its ability to catch the wind.

A number of Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are addressed in this simple engineering challenge, which can easily be adapted for students of various ages and abilities:

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

  • Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes. (2.MD.1)
  • Measure to determine how much longer one object is than another, expressing the length difference in terms of a standard length unit. (2.MD.4)
  • Generate measurement data by measuring lengths of several objects to the nearest whole unit…Show the measurements by making a line plot, where the horizontal scale is marked off in whole-number units. (2.MD.9)

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose. (2-PS1-2)
  • Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs. (K-2-ETS1-3)

This activity is adapted from the EiE unit, “Catching the Wind: Designing Windmills.” To see it in action in two different elementary classrooms, visit our website!

In Your Classroom
We hope that this example might inspire you to use engineering as way to authentically integrate the science and mathematics you are already teaching in your classroom. For more inspiration, check out the free EiE extension lessons on our website, which connect EiE curriculum units to science, Common Core mathematics, and more!

Kristin Sargianis is Director of Professional Development for “Engineering is Elementary” at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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