Friday, January 25, 2013

What about Humpty Dumpty?

We all know the nursery rhyme -

Humpty Dumpty 
Sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty
had a great fall
All the king's horses and
All the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Another awesome engineering opportunity for the Big Cats!!

Could we create something that would keep an egg from cracking, if it was dropped from a high wall?  

All children used recyclables and found materials for their devices.

We discussed how to keep the egg safe.  
Some children tried extra cushion or padding (a variety of packing materials, such as netting, bubble wrap, and styrofoam); 
others tried cardboard "roofs" and "walls," enclosing the egg; 
some simply crammed the egg into cardboard tubes; 
others went for size, using many, many pieces of recyclables to surround the egg; 
still others did a combination of these ideas.

Everyone created a device.

I placed a raw egg in the center of the engineering table to help the children "size" their devices as they built. 

"I've got to start again," said Jack, as he examined the size of the egg and 
realized it wouldn't fit in his device.  

Anya placed the egg inside her device and said "See, it hides right inside." 

Ellington reached for the egg to test it in his device, and 
was elated when it fit  - "Yeah, he does!"

The children were thinking like engineers.
How awesome is that?!

One preschooler burst into tears when she realized the egg wouldn't sit in her device at all.  I encouraged her to take a break, and we sat together, revisiting the chart about the engineering cycle - "See, if it doesn't work the first time, you try again...that's what engineers do."  A couple of minutes later, she was ready to try again - this time she was successful, creating a triangular device for the egg to sit in.
How awesome is that?!

[In the midst of all this building and creating, we had special visitors come into the classroom.  We are a demonstration school and we have scheduled visitors at least once a month.  Somehow, this is always a somewhat nerve-wracking experience for me, as I worry about how to attend to children and their many needs while looking polished, professional, and available to answer questions. Anyhow, a very busy engineering experience became a very busy engineering experience in a fishbowl!! Somehow, we  all made it, with mostly smiles on our faces.  The children were so engaged.]

When all the children had finished their devices, we tested them.  We gathered in the hallway, outside our classroom at a special test site.

The test site:
a makeshift high wall created from a large plastic storage bin on top of a high table.
At the base of the table,
an empty container,
to catch the device with the egg.

The children climbed up "high" on a step stool,
placing the raw egg into their device,
placing the device onto the edge of the bin at the edge of the table.
We sang the nursery rhyme over and over, as,
one by one,
the children used their hands to push their device off the bin,
letting the devices fall.

The children and I agreed beforehand -
if the raw egg broke as the device fell,
the device would be thrown away.

Children were riveted,
some had eyes covered, not bearing to watch
others had hands ready for clapping, cheering on
still others had hands clasped, wringing in trepidation and expectation,
all eyes on these tests.

Many, many devices "failed."
In fact, more than half the class created devices that did not pass the test.

There were a variety of faces on the children whose test resulted in broken eggs:

  • hands over eyes or mouth,
  • quivering lips and watering eyes,
  • quiet resolve.
This was a challenging problem.

This was the first time this school year that devices failed so frequently,
a difficult lesson for preschoolers -
going home with no device,
only a story to share with their families.

Was it too much for these little ones?
I don't think so.
there is safety in such numbers.

I nudged the children to very supportive responses at each failed test -

Whoa, what went wrong here?
What could we have done differently?
If we made this device again, what should we add that would protect the egg?
Why did [so and so]'s device keep the egg safe but this one did not?  
What is the difference between these?

I want to believe that engineering is a safe, friendly, happy way to learn about failure.
In a way, through these tests, we are celebrating making mistakes,
Oooh, that's a cool mistake!  
Did you see what happened there?

The children seemed to take the engineering process in stride,
seemed to understand that not every device would work.

How awesome is that?!


I wrote an explanatory message to families in my daily note:

There is so, so much to be learned from failure - this is the best learning of all!
Ask your child:
What might you do to make the project work next time?What do you think went wrong?What changes could you engineer to fix the device?
Some families had a tricky time with this.  One Mom asked if her child would get a chance for a do-over the next day.  (Short answer - No. Long answer - We engineer devices regularly; your child has learned so much from today's test and will take this knowledge and apply it next time.)

How do we teach our children to persevere when we ourselves are so uncomfortable with failure? 
This is a dilemma.

I know at least one family took their child's successful device home and repeated the test with a raw egg from their own refrigerator - How awesome is that?!


I have a marvelous class of budding engineers!

How awesome is that?!

1 comment:

  1. A long while ago, my middle schoolers did this & we actually mailed the eggs (to the school) to see if they could stand the test. Later, with tightened security, we dropped them from the roof. It's a wonderful problem & I am so impressed that you are doing it with pre-schoolers. And that you are supporting their failures too. It is so important to learn to meet those challenges with resolve to look again, & re-solve the problem. Hurrah for your class & you, Maureen. I love this story. I just discussed this article with the assistants at school. I think you will find it interesting.