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Tackling Engineering and Design in The Science Curriculum

December 9, 2015

Welcome back to Website Wednesday, the weekly installment that shows you how the BetterLesson site can support you with ideas, resources, and even full, standards-aligned lessons for your classroom.

Today, Master Teacher Joyce Baumann describes her experience teaching engineering and design to lower elementary students, and how the BetterLesson site can help any teacher looking to incorporate more engineering into their lessons. Enjoy!

Baumann1During my work with the BetterLesson Master Teacher Project, I worked with a mentor to create science lessons aligned with the NGSS standards. One day, my mentor noted that I had yet to create any lessons that addressed the NGSS Engineering and Design Standards.

I laughed. I could not imagine how kindergarteners could engage in engineering. She had to be kidding! She wasn’t. However, she did offer support as I set out on a journey to bring engineering and design into my classroom.

After looking over the kindergarten standards, I decided to integrate engineering into my kindergarten science unit that addresses the sun. I planned to have my students design and construct a structure that would shelter an ice cube from melting. I gathered my supplies and prepared to take the plunge.

I gave the students time to plan their structures. They had the opportunity to look at the materials available and think about how they would use them. They sketched their designs on paper and then jumped into building. It was a hot mess. Yards of masking tape and a forest of popsicle sticks gave their lives for these flimsy structures. There were arguments and disagreements and a few airborne popsicle sticks. After more than a half hour of building, some of the structures failed to even stand on their own. I saw the lesson to its end, by taking the students outside to test their structures. The structures were somewhat effective in protecting the ice cube, but they did not function the way I hoped they would. Here is what a few of the structures looked like:


That evening I debriefed with my Master Teacher mentor, sharing my frustrations. She said I needed to go back and try it again. What? Try it again? That was just crazy talk. But after some discussion, I discovered an inner courage I didn’t know I had, and I decided to have the students make another attempt, trying to improve their structures. I decided to teach a lesson about the difference in light absorption with black and white paper before the next attempt to give the students some additional background knowledge to help guide their decision making when designing their new structure.

So we embarked upon design and engineering, attempt two. As I launched the planning part of the lesson, I noticed a remarkable change. The students were really conversing about the shortcomings of their first designs and how they could improve upon them. When the students starting constructing their structures, their work was very focused. The consumption of masking tape was greatly reduced as well!

When it was time to test the structures, the results were impressive, showing an improved performance for all student work groups. Notice the difference in their structures from their original designs:


The students were so proud of their work and they truly experienced the engineering and design cycle by making improvements on their first structure. They also used the knowledge they gained from the lesson on light absorption, changing the color of the paper they used for their structures from black to white.

So, does science and engineering have a place in the kindergarten classroom? That is an enthusiastic, “Yes!” It may have been a bit “messy”, but the learning that happened was just amazing. I would encourage all teachers to explore the BetterLesson site to find inspiration for incorporating NGSS Science and Engineering Standards into science instruction. There are hundreds of lessons for Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, and High School.

Joyce Baumann is a Kindergarten teacher in Cold Spring, Minnesota. In her 20-year career, she has been a finalist for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, received the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, and served on the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Joyce was a member of both BetterLesson’s Science Master Teacher Project and the Math Master Teacher Project. To view all of Joyce’s great lessons, please click here.


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