Professional Development through Active Learning: "Harmless Holders"

When Science Center partner, Wendy Pavlicek and I sat down to review a survey completed by our Science Curriculum Council members, one glaring bit of information gleaned was that engineering practices were limited or not being adequately met at all in our K-5 classrooms.

While time was considered the biggest detriment to our lack of engineering activity, Wendy and I thought it wise to jump start teachers’ confidence in teaching engineering-based lessons knowing the potential for such lessons to play a larger role in K-12 science curriculum with the state’s possible endorsement of NGSS.

To do this we selected an activity from the workshop of “Design Squad,” a PBS show pitting upper elementary / middle school age children against engineering challenges. The challenge “Harmless Holder” asks participants to “invent a holder for six cans that’s animal-safe, sturdy, convenient, and easy to carry.” Before beginning we presented a diagram of the design process and informed teachers that we would be working through each step during the session to give teachers a student-oriented experience of what an engineering lesson might be like.

A “Harmless Holder” ready for its first trip to the beach!

The value of learning how to teach engineering practices by performing an engineering challenge was immediately visible. As Wendy and I observed our teachers in action we were able to take notes on group dynamics, the challenges that classroom spaces can present, and even some common pitfalls students often make (such as jumping into the building process without dedicating time and energy to brainstorming and planning!)

“Redesigned” cross-stitched corners after realizing duct tape wasn’t all that harmless!

At the tail end of the meeting teacher groups were able to “share” their results by modeling the use of their Harmless Holder “catwalk” style… an opportunity that some of our teacher’s were seemingly born for! A discussion around the observations me, Wendy, and council members made during the session led to teachers providing thoughtful ideas on how to best present engineering challenges to students in their own classrooms and to better support their skills through all stages of the design process.

Ready for the catwalk!

No immediate changes in our curriculum are expected to be made in the coming year, leading me to believe integrating engineering skills into our science curriculum will still be in short supply. By giving teachers opportunities to try engineering activities for themselves now, however, Burlington’s science educators should be more prepared for the engineering challenges that lay ahead for us in the not so distant future. In addition, a number of council members left the professional development excited and positive, complimenting the value of “this kind of PD” and happy to see their extended-day time used so well!

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About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
This entry was posted in Classroom Activities, Professional Reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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