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Bagging It

“Into the brown paper bag of my heart, he slipped a smile.”  – David James Duncan

Ready to slip a smile on the faces of your students during these last few days of school?  Try constructing paper bag challenges.  Exciting engineering projects can be created with simple materials like tape, paper, and string placed inside a paper bag.  Include a simple problem to solve on an index card and get to work.  As they complete their mystery bag task, the students will be developing the skills of:

  • Collaborating and planning
  • Problem solving
  • Spatial awareness
  • Creative thinking
  • Trial and error
  • Measurement
  • Predicting
  • Fine and gross motor
  • Perseverance

You can adapt each challenge and create it to meet whatever learning goals you would like to achieve.  Consider what type of task will be of interest to your group of students and what materials you have on hand.  Begin each challenge by talking about the problem that will need to be solved.  Brainstorm a few solutions and encourage the student teams to be as creative as possible.  Here is one idea:

Create a Balloon Powered Vehicle

Bag Contents:  1 balloon, tape, straws, cardboard tubes, paper or cardboard, large buttons, small plastic water bottle  (Materials may vary.  Pressed for time?  Simply put a task card in each bag with the challenge.  Have a table ready with a variety of recyclable items, tape, paper, balloons, old CD’s, etc from which to choose.)

Challenge:  Create a vehicle powered only by the air from a blown up balloon.  Your vehicle may travel across land, water, or air.

After teams work to construct their vehicles – have a test time.  Talk about the completed inventions and share what went well and where they might be improved if you had more time.  You can set a time limit or work as long as the students’ interest level is high.  This open-ended activity can ignite meaningful discussions revolving around problem solving, teamwork, design, engineering, and physics.

Here are some resources that will spark interesting engineering ideas.  Tweak them to meet the needs of your students and make them your own:

http://pbskids.org/designsquad/    PBS Kids Design Squad offers great activities and videos that will inspire some great problem solving.

http://www.eie.org/   Engineering is Elementary is filled with free curriculum resources and engineering adventures for students.

http://www.instructables.com/id/Project-Based-Engineering-for-Kids/  Project Based Engineering for Kids has a collection of project based engineering lessons that hit on the basic principles of physics and engineering.

http://www.getcaughtengineering.com/  Get Caught Engineering has lessons and ideas for hands-on engineering projects for school aged children to explore.

The end of the year is hectic, but it can still be filled with quality learning opportunities.   The bag can be a powerful tool.  It is always fun to find out what task might be inside and get our young engineers’ minds moving.





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