Monday, 9 December 2013

A Field Trip to a... Field!: Project-Based Learning and the Maker Movement

The weather was blustery and cold, and snow was falling steadily. It was a perfect day for a field trip. We would be outside most of the day, and it wasn't raining, so... all in all, perfect weather. We loaded up on the bus and headed out to build! Today we would have the opportunity to build our own Rat Trap-Powered Cars!

I have tried to engage parents this year as local experts in various subjects that students would be interested in learning about. I quickly discovered the many diverse interests and talents available and I am trying to leverage this large pool of talent in our classroom this year. 

I was talking to one father and explaining what the idea behind Project-Based Learning was: how we would like to actually do, and make things, not just read and write about them. He thought that was great, and he offered his metal-working skills, and his shop for a class trip.

He offered the idea of a Rat-Trap-Powered Car, he created the design and sourced all the parts we would need. I kept what we were making a surprise for the class. The week before the trip I started a blog post with pictures of various parts we would use to make our project, inviting students to guess what we might be creating. Here are some of the parts I showed before the trip:

The class guessed all sorts of possibilities: a crane-style arm, a working elevator, a boat, a car, and a robot. Lots of great guesses, and lots of potential future projects! Today they finally found out what we were making. Each student was asked to bring 4 CDs, which they would use for wheels. The rat trap would be the chassis. The axles attached at either end of the trap.

The children used a drill press and an electric drill while creating their cars. They were well supervised, they worked hard, and were very focused on their creations. No one had to be reminded to be careful, or to pay attention to what they were doing.

When the students weren't working on their Rat Trap Cars, they were outside at one of the three activities. In previous years, I would carefully plan out various centres where the students would do a prescribed activity in small groups. Every group would do the same activity in the same way, and record their learning, or answers as they completed each task. 

This year instead of planning activities, I issued challenges. Each group chose how to create, modify, or rework their ideas to meet the various challenges. 

One challenge was:

The corn maze groups employed compasses and various items borrowed from our Phys. Ed. equipment room. While we did lose one bowling pin, we lost zero children, so I considered this activity wildly successful.

The second challenge was:

There was a lot of creativity, one group decided to use a hockey stick shaft to measure metres. With this tool they measured the distance between buildings, and landmarks. Another group took some string, measured out 50cm for each walking stride, and recorded a metre for every second step they took. This will allow them to later create an accurate map in Minecraft.

The third challenge was:

The groups started out with games similar to Lacrosse at the beginning, but this morphed to more of a Survival game with students playing the part of different animals, hunting, and evading each other in the bush.

For each centre the group could choose to play the game set up by the last group, modify and then play it, or just make their own game. Each group recorded their game for the next group when they were done. 

All in all, it was a great day. Outside the students created and led their own activities, and in the shop they created fantastic Rat Trap-Powered Cars. I imagine there will now be a lot of interest in various ways to design and build different vehicles, with various sources of propulsion in our class. I think December will be an exciting month!

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