I got to spend the morning Monday in Gardnerville, Nevada, working with elementary and middle school teachers exploring wind energy.
The Carson Range in early morning light, Gardnerville, Nevada.
I was helping Lou Loftin, the Science Facilitator for the Northwest Nevada Regional Professional Development Program (where I’m the STEM facilitator) as he lead teachers through designing wind mill blades that would then be used to lift as many washers as possible a half meter off the ground. Actually leading them is a bit of a reach. It was true messy learning. Participants were given a minimum of direction other than what I mentioned in my last sentence.
There were choices of materials to make the blades – everything from balsa wood to plastic to cardboard and more. This was an example of the ABC’s of science education … “Activity Before Content” – and, just like your students do, the teachers jumped in. Lou did encourage them to plan first – “… draw your design first” – some did. It was all gold as designs were started, changed, augmented … the whole range. After most had made and tried a design we debriefed a bit and then let them get back to it … it was like trying to hold back a stampede … based on their early experience some started over, others trimmed or added to their blade design. The data on how many washers they could lift quadrupled.
Next the group was given a new challenge. Instead of lifting weight … now you have to spin a generator to produce the most electricity possible. I won’t give it away … but let’s just say the old blade designs somehow had to be modified to fit the new task – no one was told that … but it became quickly apparent. Exquisite messy learning.
We ended the morning doing a final debrief and brainstorming extensions to the activities … which became a semester’s worth of hands-on learning without breaking a sweat. A good time was had by all!
Learning is messy!