Friday, November 16, 2012

Is it time for the Three Little Pigs?

Yes, the Three Little Pigs is one of my favorite engineering stories.  I believe this is my ninth year of sharing this particular lesson with little ones - and it continues to rock!

The preschoolers were challenged to design and build a house using only cardboard recyclables.  Because this was engineering - and not simply an opportunity to create a sculpture - each cardboard house was subjected to a test:  could the Big Bad Wolf blow the house over?  Much to the delight of the children, the Big Bad Wolf was a blowdryer.

Here's what the children built:






(Sarah Lydia)

















My favorite "nuggets" from this year's Three Little Pigs engineering effort, in no particular order:

  • I closed the book midway through, with my traditional "engineering story" pronouncement ("We are closing the book because we have a problem to fix - what is the problem?") and the children squealed - "Ms. Ingram, you can't close the book!  The wolf is going to blow the house down!"  [Me - "You are right!  That is the problem!  The wolf is going to blow the house down.  We need to build a house that he cannot blow down."  The children were mesmerized.]
  • The delight on children's faces as they worked freely with the tape, scissors, and cardboard, designing as they pleased.
  • Watching children become totally transfixed by adding details to their projects, only to have them cover up - or undo - these details in the final product.
  • Children working together, helping one another cut tape and hold pieces onto their projects.
  • Overhearing Jack and Arlando talking about the engineering cycle, as they woke up from their naps (Jack - "I really like to find the problem, which is step one, you know, and I like to build, which is step three."  Arlando - "Well, there are five steps in engineering. I saw it on the board.")
  • Sophie deciding that she was no longer going to make a house for the pig, but "something pretty that I like."
  • The excitement as we tested each of the projects, re-living the script "Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in!" , "Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin!" and then the blowdryer turning on, trying to blow over the house.
  • The stunned looks and quiet classroom when several projects failed - and the children's great ideas for their classmates on how to improve their projects ("it needs more at the bottom," "you need to add more pieces").   For me, one of the most important aspects of this playful engineering is that it provides children a safe and fun way to learn from failure.
  • Children asking to get the recyclables and tape out again so that they could add more details to their projects and try the test again.  
  • Dillon asking his Mom, at pick up, if he could use her blowdryer when he got home....
  • Overhearing the children repeat the story, over and over, to one another, for the next couple of days, voicing and acting the different parts.

We'll do lots more engineering this year, but this was a grand kickoff! These children are thinking like engineers....

I always feel as if I should share "credits" for this engineering curricula:

All the engineering exploration that I do with preschoolers began with:

Fall 2003 NAEYC Conference, Chicago, Illinois
Workshop on “Children’s Engineering,” led by Vince Walencik and Liz Kendall of Montclair StateUniversity, New Jersey

Here's an interesting tidbit - Vince Walencik and Liz Kendall said that New Jersey required their early childhood teachers to take a technology and engineering course for children...

I wonder if that is still true?
I wonder why that isn't true everywhere?


  1. I did one or more engineering project with my students (middle school) every year, Maureen, & love seeing what your younger students do, too. I will certainly pass this on to colleagues. They will love it! It's just great to see the pictures, too!

  2. What a wonderful idea. The way you described it makes me want to do it with my students tomorrow....and my granddaughter at Christmas.

  3. My partner emailed me this blog post (not sure where she found it) --and I 100% love it! I love the diversity of the kids' structures and the Jack-Arlando dialogue in particular. You are such a great teacher to let them experience such open-ended exploration with a purpose! That's some of the best kind of teaching -- I saw it on the board.