2012-10-18 / News

How to make a bear comfy?

Second-graders acted like engineers for their project
BY MARGO SULLIVAN


Second-grade teacher Mary Jane Moynihan explains how to design a chair for a bear with Melrose Avenue School pupils Josie Wagner, 8, and Andrew Goodburn, 7. The lesson is part of the STEM program, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF FURHANA DIBIASE Second-grade teacher Mary Jane Moynihan explains how to design a chair for a bear with Melrose Avenue School pupils Josie Wagner, 8, and Andrew Goodburn, 7. The lesson is part of the STEM program, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. PHOTO COURTESY OF FURHANA DIBIASE Second-graders in Mary Jane Moynihan’s class tackled their first engineering job on Monday when they designed, built and tested a prototype chair for a bear.

The children used Legos and a ruler to do the assignment, which was part of a new block dubbed STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

The STEM block is in its fourth week, said Melrose Avenue School principal Carrie Melucci, and so far the children have learned to approach problems with a three-step process. They design, they build and finally they test their solutions. They also learn to work in teams and collaborate.

Over the last couple of weeks she reminded the class that they did a nice job on a design using a brown paper bag. But Monday was the first time they had to work together to solve a problem, Melucci said.

In this case, to pass the test, they had to build a chair big enough for the bear to sit in and not fall out.

To illustrate, Melucci showed the class what happened to a 2-inch bear trying to sit in a chair only 1-inch wide.

The bear fell down.

“What tool could we use to help us make sure it’s the right size?” Melucci asked. She then showed the children a measuring tape and a ruler. Melucci said they could use either to measure the prototype, making sure the chair was bigger than the bear.

Also in the classroom was Furhana DiBiase, the project manager for the Science and Math Scholars program. She measured the bear and declared it was 1 inch. She considered building a chair with a 2-inch platform and asked the class if the bear could fit in that size chair.

They said it could.

Sometimes the children forgot to measure with the ruler, but they did eyeball the size of the bear and the chair.

Beyond that, the design was a matter of imagining the kind of chair a bear would enjoy, the children indicated.

Andrew Goodburn, 7, and Josie Wagner, 8, thought about a lot of options as they emptied a paper bag of Legos on the reading rug and sorted through the pieces.

For one thing, a bear’s chair could come with a fireplace to keep the bear warm and with a fishing rod, in case the bear wanted to catch some supper, they decided.

In the early design stages, it was unclear whether the chair was inside or outside.

“What’s he doing?” Moynihan asked, to help the children imagine how the bear would spend time in the chair.

“He could fish,” Andrew said. “He could rest.”

Redwood Wright and Kirsten Kincaid, both 7, also built a fireplace around their bear’s chair.

“Oh, to keep him warm,” Moynihan said.

Their teacher sat on the rug beside the youngsters and talked over the ideas. She wanted to know why Andrew put the chair on a platform and added a steering wheel.

Was the chair going out on the water, she wanted to know.

“It’s sort of like a floating chair,” Andrew said. “My mother would like that. Everybody wants a floating chair.”

At the end of class the children looked at several prototypes and summed up their designs. One of the chairs had a trap so the bear could catch any small animals that crawled onto the chair.

Elaine Washburn and Alex Rutherford made a chair with a headrest and also attached a rocket to the rear. Because the platform was a little high, they provided a way for the bear to climb up and down.

“This is a ladder for him to get onto it,” Elaine said. Their chair passed the design test, the class decided.

Kate Bridges and Robert Cadwalader also designed a chair that passed the test.

“The chair is kind of like a throne, actually,” Kate said. Their seat was made with a rock, not a Lego piece.

“It’s a rock because he lives in the forest,” Robert said.

Andrew and Josie’s chair also passed the test. But Andrew, 7, admitted he skips the testing when he builds things at home, and he doesn’t ever use Lego.

“At home I don’t need to do the test,” he said. “I build things really well. I’ve done it a million times. I usually make cities.”

Josie said she also builds cities when she plays with her brother’s Lego toys at home.

“I just build,” she said.

DiBiase talked to the children about why engineers are sometimes inventors who make products better. For an example of an item that needed improvement, she mentioned the Walkman sets from the 1980s, which were cumbersome and heavy. Engineers figured out how to make them smaller, she said.

At the end of class, the children completed a self-evaluation form to show whether or not they worked well together, answering a few questions: Was I respectful? DidIcooperate?WasIagood partner?

Melucci said it was important for the children to acquire teamwork skills. They work in pairs and learn to agree and disagree while being helpful, respectful and cooperative.

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