Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Different Kind of Final Exam

At the end of my Teaching Elementary School Math and Science course students are required to solve an engineering problem for the final exam. The problem comprises the construction of a Rubber Band Roller (RBR), a vehicle powered by a rubber band. In essence the RBR consists of a cylinder of some sort, a rubber band and a stick such as a pencil. But in reality it is so much more as the students always find out. The definition of a good problem in any academic field is a situation that cannot be immediately resolved without the application of knowledge and thought. For example if you know that 3 x 4 = 12 then you don't have a problem.

If we define science as the exploration of questions in the natural world then we can define engineering as the use of science to solve problems in the world in general. The RBR is such a great engineering project because it never, ever works first time. As Aris, one of my students wrote, "Overall, my emotions with this project went from excited, to frustrated, to more frustrated, to feeling hopeless, to then suddenly having the wonderful feeling of accomplishment".  The project requires the students to use all the engineering process skills we discuss in class. These are; defining a problem, researching relevant information, designing, constructing, testing, adapting and improving, and completing and presenting. 

The 'presenting' part is what constitutes the final exam where students can enter their RBR in 3 competitions; distance, speed and creativity. Congratulations to Leanna who broke the world distance record with four times up and down the length of the classroom (about 60 feet), and to Jenn who won the speed trial with .6 seconds over three feet, and to Emily who decorated her RBR with a Peppermint Pattie motif. The winners each received a copy of an  elementary school science activity resource book but all participants were winners because they all overcame what really is quite a difficult engineering problem.  

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