Towers of Power

One of the hardest things to figure out from social media is whether or not something is real. And even more important, if what you find is accurate.

Most definitely, there are trusted sources of news and other information that we can turn to for facts and a variety of data. But in the world of internet, everyone has a voice and sometimes that collective voice is loud and overwhelming.

20150917_150811For this blog post, my point is this:

As a teacher, I have no idea how anything I do in my classroom compares with what happens in other teachers’ classrooms.

Why? Because in the social-media-cybersphere, everyone else has brilliant students doing amazing work with unlimited physical resources and enthusiastic support from everyone involved in the educational process.

The world outside my world appears to be filled with total awesomeness. In a way, I feel like I’m hanging out in the sticks doing the best I can with what I’ve got.

So this isn’t a very high-powered project that we did, but it’s real and it’s accurate and in the long-run, it was fun and students learned some good stuff. At the very least, they practiced collaboration skills in a project-based learning environment.

Build a Tower

The task was simple: Build a tower using only paper that is headed to recycling and masking tape. The winner will be the tallest and strongest tower.

Not an elaborate project. Not a high-tech design. Not even really a design. Just a mash up of everyone’s ideas and start building something. Most definitely trial-and-error.

Prototype. Test. Rebuild. Re-prototype. Re-test. Re-design. Final test. All in three 45-minute class periods.

Students collected two sets of data: preliminary and final. Quickly plot the graph on the whiteboard.

What We Learned

How paper compresses. Why paper compresses.

A lot of this depends on how you fold it initially. Then also, how you arrange it with other pieces of folded paper.

Why doesn’t a newspaper compress like a package of copy paper that you buy at the store? Is a stack of newspapers or recycled paper as strong as a ream of paper?

Critical Mass

20150917_153315At some point, the tower will not compress anymore no matter how many (super-heavy) math books you put on it. It has reached its point of critical mass. Why does that happen?

I don’t really know if or when in their academic careers students might actually dive into the science of compression and critical mass. Maybe never. But these 7th grade kids did. Easy, simple, all-together-a-little-bit-silly project. Fun times!

The next piece of the project will be more challenging. The design thinking question will be:

HMW (how might we… ) clean up the trash vortex floating in the Pacific Ocean?

Pacific Vortex

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