This week in enrichment, second graders took a break from their school/community projects to work on a team challenge. The exercise, put together by NASA, challenged students to decide which materials might be vital to a 200 mile trek across the moon surface. I knew before introducing the activity that students would not have all of the schema to assess all of the material choices-- BUT my goal was for them to talk to each other, to work together to make decisions (even when they did not have all of the data). During one class, an adult volunteer whispered that they were not sure about one of the materials.....and I encouraged her to repeat this out loud. I think it is so important that students realize that learning does not always involve knowing everything--that sometimes we are guessing based on what we do know. Sometimes we are relying on the knowledge of others without being sure ourselves, and sometimes no one answer is absolutely correct!
Student engagement on this project was high. Each group really worked together to make decisions, and all were able to agree on a ranking scale. I was excited to see them applying things they had learned to a new scenario (they all ranked air, water and food at the top of their lists--understanding from their studies that these were necessities to survival). I enjoyed seeing several students really shine as they shared facts that they knew about the moon----the lack of oxygen, the decrease in gravity that would allow them to carry heavy oxygen tanks, how far 200 miles was, etc. And then students had to add up their scores. They had to apply their knowledge of combining multiple addends to see how close they were to the NASA recommendations. Students worked on this collaboratively! Some scribed, some counted, some checked--they all discussed strategies for making sure their work was correct. When we met as a group, teams compared results and talked about why they had chosen different ranks for different items, and I shared the NASA recommendations. None of the groups were upset that they did not get all of the answers 'correct', instead they were thoughtfully asking for clarifications that might add to their knowledge base.
As a former engineer, I believe strongly that science can provide students with amazing learning opportunities! I am going to continue to be on the look out for activities like this one that combine this level of inquiry with the need to work in a group.
Want to take the Survival Challenge? Here is the link to this activity as part of a complex lesson (at the end):
The condensed version I used for in class work, I found at: