The past two weeks have been exceedingly exciting here in the STEM lab.  We are starting our unit on the design process, and all of my classes have been doing the Ready, Set, Design! activity from the Cooper-Hewitt museum.  Kevin Jarrett has been a great inspiration for this unit, and is the one who shared both this activity and our current Extraordinaires project (more on that in a future post).

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For this activity, my students were divided into six teams.  Each team got a bag with a small amount of construction materials – coffee filters, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, etc.  Some of the bags had the same materials, some had different materials.  Each team also got a design challenge, for example: I need to get groceries up several flights of stairs, or I need to keep my hands warm.  Each team had 15-20 minutes to plan and make a prototype using only the materials in their bag.  They were not allowed to create anything that already existed, but instead had to come up with their own product.

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It was great to watch the change in the kids as they began their projects.  When they opened the bags, there was a lot of initial moaning and groaning over the amount and types of materials they had to work with.  I heard a lot of ‘This is impossible!’ remarks from my teams.  After about five minutes, however, every student was completely engaged and excitedly designing and building.  Their creativity was amazing.

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At the end of our design time, each team had to come up and present their product to the class and explain how it worked.  Many teams were nervous about presenting initially, but without fail once they got up there they ended up hamming it up and having a great time (albeit with lots of giggles).  Some teams even presented their own infomercials, complete with ‘Has this ever happened to you?’

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The teams also had to be able to answer questions about their product from the rest of the class.  They quickly declared that this was just like Shark Tank, and became even more enthused.  The classes came up with lots of great questions for the teams, and it was the perfect way to introduce how to give and receive feedback.

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I was honestly not expecting such a strong response from my students.  I figured most of them would enjoy it, but I never thought I would see such extreme involvement and enjoyment across the board.  Even the classroom teachers were amazed at how engaged the students were.  I highly recommend trying this activity with your students!

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