The images of Hurricane Sandy that pounded the East Coast in November may be gone from daily news reports today but we will not soon forget the destructive natural disaster that destroyed whole communities – killing more than 100 people, cutting power to more than eight million homes and costing billions of dollars in damage.
This is the premise behind a creative science study at Dove Elementary designed for students to learn about mass, force and structural stability of various materials.
Second-grade students recently created their own natural disaster simulation by using a blow dryer and a house made out of straws, clay, Styrofoam, toothpicks and other household items.
“I think it was really cool instead of using paper and pencil because we actually got to build the houses and then we got to see if they broke or if they moved,” said student Ayden Cheek.
In the study, students worked in teams using specific size criteria to construct a house that could withstand 10 seconds of “wind from a natural disaster” (simulated by the blow dryer). Teams were able to choose the materials they used, but they had to purchase all their materials with a pre-determined budget of $1,000. Phillip Lentz, an instructional coach for GCISD, has a background in finance and he spoke with students about the financial aspects of budgeting and purchasing materials.
“Although each team started out with $1,000, they were able to earn money for participation, solving problems, working together as a team, using unit vocabulary in discussions and other collaborative actions,” said teacher Bridget Visser.
Once students learned how to maintain a budget, they then turned to a parent who works as an architect to learn how to build a house.
“We found out that some materials were stronger than others and we didn’t have to find it out by a book because we had an architect come and tell us about it,” said student Kase Pulliam.
Once the structures were built, students put their house on a table while Visser pointed the blow dryer on it for 10 seconds to simulate a natural disaster. While it may not have had the same effect as an actual storm, the lesson was something that resonated with students.
"It was so exciting to see the students involved in discovery,” said Principal Becky Lamb. “With guest speakers and actual experimentation, they discovered the strength of various materials and learned about the concept of force through a meaningful and relevant process. They also learned about budgeting and skills such as teamwork, research and cooperation. All these concepts are something they will always remember because they were actively engaged in their learning and they had fun doing it!"