STEM Engineering: Beach Ball Towers

Part of my job is coaching other teachers in "gifted" education, which is just another way of explaining deeper levels of understanding and stronger differentiation aligned with best practice methods for all students. The other part of my job is working with identified gifted students (based on district testing), mainly 3rd-5th graders. As part of the gifted curriculum, my students are working on "Thinking Like a Disciplinarian", and our current unit is Engineering.

Today we tried a new unit that I like to call "Beach Ball Towers". They have had some previous experience building structures from other materials, and these units are leading towards building prosthetic limbs as Biomedical Engineers. This is based on the principles of STEM education, where the students are given a task and specific materials to accomplish that task. They must work in groups (I had 4 students per group) to design their tower and then build it. Here are the guidelines for this task:

  • Work in groups
  • Follow your team leader
  • Tower must be at least 12" tall but can be taller
  • Can only use provided materials
  • Beach ball must be balancing on top
  • Keep a budget for the cost of your materials
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The students will have a set budget to work within for their Prosthetic Limb engineering activity, but for this activity I just had them practice keeping track of the cost of their materials. They had to get all their materials from me so that I could monitor which groups were using what, and remind them to constantly be tracking the total amount spent.

This is the recording sheet that each student got to keep track of the cost of materials and to draw their own design before they agreed on a final design.

Here are the students at work in groups, as well as the final Beach Ball towers!


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