Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bridge building for 5th graders

I always find it interesting when teachers capture the kids attention and hold it. Good lessons plans, good ideas and good projects. And, perhaps most importantly, good attitudes. The kids genuinely like these teachers.

We are just finishing up the year with one of the best math teachers Molly has ever had; the beloved Mutant Math Teacher, Mr. L.

He teaches the advanced math class for the 5th graders and has managed all year to entertain yet teach, always a delicate balance.

The latest example is the bridge building lesson.

4 groups of 6 kids, each one with a job; Architect, Project Manager, 2 Construction Manager, Materials manager and Accountant.

They are given a budget to build a bridge from scratch. They have to purchase materials and record the costs; toothpicks (bundles of 10), glue, string and cardboard for a building surface. They can't go over budget and they get extra points for being under.

I had seen the design stage because Molly was the Architect and I saw her working her triangulation on the graph paper but I helped in the class last week and saw the construction phase. Very impressive indeed.

Ok. First, the 2 girl's teams were far better at working cooperatively together. And, they were way further along. They were supportive and kind about making suggestions and didn't seem to step on the other kids job descriptions. They chatted in a cluster around the bridge discussing improvements. Occasionally a boy would come by threatening flirtatiously about sabotaging the girl's bridge. Needless to say, the girls did not find this threat at all amusing. Much discussion about boys. Things like, "Boys say stuff like, you run like a girl and mean it as an insult."

I reminded them that their bridges were farther along, stronger and better designed. Let them think that they are insulting you. You girls know better.

They said that most real bridge builders were men. I said, "Not anymore. You are the bridge builders if you want to be."

Contrast; the boy's teams were a mess! Frustration. Anger. Panic? Screwing around while only one kid was working on the bridge.

Both boy's teams were no where near completion where both the 2 girl's were reinforcing and strengthening.

Yesterday was the big bridge competition. Weights were used to determine how much each bridge could hold. Molly's team ended up winning by being able to hold 8,345 grams for 12 seconds. The record. The second place came in at 6, 278 grams; another girl's team.

It got me thinking. How many of those girls will go on to do engineering? When I was in college there were just a handful of women in the engineering program with the majority, by far, men. It was sort of understood that men had those engineering brains. Although, I know plenty of women with brains like that.

Is that changing? So much focus has been made to encourage young girls to focus on math and science. Will it play out with this batch of kids? The graduating class of 2016?

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