The last time I taught grade 6, my colleague Lisa Nelson and I decided to try something different with the flight unit. After a collaborative planning session with another colleague with expertise in this area, we developed a project in which students would design and test ‘objects that fly’ in a wind tunnel.
The wind tunnel was quite easy to build – it simply involves a fan and plastic tunnel sitting upon a scale. This tunnel allows student to calculate the change in weight of their designs during the testing process.
The ultimate goal for the students was to create the greatest amount of lift they could with the knowledge and engineering skills they had. While we experienced success with that project (high student engagement, creative building projects), we were unsatisfied with the way in which students communicated their progress and ‘ah ha’ moments. The original project had them keeping a daily logbook. This became an unwieldy document that was difficult to assess.
I have cycled back to grade 6 this year and was excited to tackle this project again. This time, I kept the building expectations the same, but tweaked the logbook requirement. This year they are required to keep a photo journal of their progress. Every day that the project is worked on, students must take a picture of their ‘object’ and comment below on what worked, what challenges they had, and where they are going next. With the students, a simple rubric was created so they had a framework in which to begin their project.
Due to the limitations of only having one wind tunnel in which to test, students are also working on two other building/testing projects which account for the rest of the learning outcomes for the Flight unit. One of these projects is a parachute testing project (identifying controlled, manipulated and responding variables), the other is working with paper gliders to achieve a set number of tasks (ie: can you make your glider dive? Pitch up? Bank Left/Right?).
It has been great to have the other projects on the go at the same time, as in the past, it has been rushed to achieve the remaining learning expectations for the unit, as the wind tunnel project takes a substantial amount of time. Having projects running alongside has minimized the amount of wasted time students spent waiting in line for the wind tunnel to do their testing.