A Better House for the Three Pigs

Continuing with the Fairy Tale theme, Mrs. Garcia and I found an activity from Teachers Pay Teachers called, The Big Bad Wolf STEM Challenge. We adapted it slightly to incorporate design thinking. (I like to use the Launch Cycle model because it’s very easy for elementary children to understand. See the post, Design Thinking + Dot Day = Thoughtful Creationfor a more in-depth description of this model.)

The challenge: Build a house for the pigs that can’t be blown down by the Big Bad Wolf (aka the hairdryer).

The students chose 20 of one of the following:

  • toothpicks
  • straws
  • popsicle sticks

We started by asking the children to assume the role of the pigs. What would you want for a house? How could it be built so that it was sturdy enough to withstand all the huffing and puffing of the wolf?

Going through the design thinking process, we had the students discuss ideas with their partner using only verbal descriptions. They had 2 minutes for this (and begged for more)! Then, the children sketched ideas based on the previous discussions. Next, each described their illustrations. The hardest task was to choose the “final” design – the one to be used for building. That step required give and take as well as negotiating skills as they tried to prove that certain designs would withstand the wolf better than others. It was interesting to listen to the conversations as the children combined the best parts of each of the sketches. There was no arguing. Instead, we saw and heard fantastic reasoning skills as students talked through the pros and cons of each design element!

Time for building! Students collected the materials and went to work. No two houses were alike!

The one thing I’d change for the future would be to limit the amount of tape. That would certainly increase the challenge difficulty. These houses were like an armored truck; there was SO much tape wrapped around some of them that I’m not even sure these structures could be crushed!

The reflection time is very important. It’s really easy to skip this step because of lack of time but it’s critical to have the students talk about their challenges; what worked, what didn’t, what they would change doing it again, etc. It also provides the opportunity for the teacher to get a better idea of the students’ thinking.

Here’s a video to give you a glimpse into the Three Pigs challenge.

To the students, this seems like “play” – it’s most definitely fun for children AND teachers! But, there is SO much learning going on. Collaboration, design, planning, learning how to improvise if something doesn’t work – to name just a few of the skills!

I’d love to hear your experiences with design thinking!

The Three Bears: Help from Second Graders

Mrs. Garcia, one of our second grade teachers, approached me to ask if we could do a design thinking/STEM activity that related to fairy tales. We brainstormed a list of tales that she wanted to present to her children and decided on 2 or 3 that we would use for the design thinking activities.

We started with Goldilocks and the Three Bears since it’s such a familiar story. On TeachersPayTeachers, I found a fun STEM activity where students build a latch for the 3 bears. This, combined with the Design Thinking “Launch” cycle, made for a really fun and productive morning!

The challenge: Build a latch for the three bears’ house that will prevent anyone from breaking in.

We discussed how designers, architects, builders, etc. work from written designs or blueprints. What would happen if a builder decided he didn’t need to follow a design; that he could work with just the idea in his head? Of course, the students could picture all kinds of ways that this would be a lousy idea! Then, we talked about what a latch is – not a very common word these days!

Following the Launch acronym, I asked the students to think like one of the three bears (empathy). How would you feel if someone entered your house without permission? Working in pairs, the children were given two minutes to talk about how they envisioned the latch would work. The hardest part of this particular part was not drawing! Only words (and lots of hand motions) were allowed! When the timer went off, there were lots of “Wait! We haven’t finished talking!” 

Next, the students drew designs. Again, a short time was given for sketching 2 or 3 ideas. Then, the hard part . . . deciding which design to use OR deciding how to incorporate elements from a few of the designs.

Only after all these steps were the students ready to construct! Supplies we used:

  • craft sticks
  • pipe cleaners
  • masking tape
  • straws
  • water bottle caps

Before collecting supplies, the children were to make a list of what they thought they would need. We did let them come back for more if needed.

As they built, we walked around to listen to the conversations and to ask questions. Listening to the students was an eye-opener! We were floored by the depth of their discussions as they built! And, it was amazing to watch them revise when they discovered kinks in their planning.

When all prototypes were completed, we came back together to share – not just describe the latch they built and how it worked. More importantly, we wanted to hear how the children handled ideas that didn’t work. Were you frustrated? Did you feel like giving up? What would you change in your design if you did this again?

Here’s a video of the students creating their latch.

Garcia_A Latch to Keep Goldilocks Out from Trinity Valley School on Vimeo.

This was so much fun! The best part for me was observing – I was absolutely amazed at the conversations and the complexity of the language that was heard!

I know children learn best through exploration, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how much they really can do on their own when we give them a challenge with no right or wrong answer. That’s when students really shine!