Week 7 -Finishing Touches, Final Presentations, and Feedback

At the end of the last session, the students noted the need for more time to put finishing touches on their work.  We agreed to starting the 7th and final meeting with a 75-90 minute work period.  When we gathered, we held a quick class meeting to set the stage for the day…and then they were off!

After 90 minutes, the class convened and offered some help to the group working on the Rube Goldberg machine.  Soon enough, it was time for presentations.

PERFORMANCE: Can the vibration of a cell phone be used to turn off a light switch?

PRESENTATION:  Could Jack have saved himself in Titanic by pulling himself on to the door?

Can you propel a rocket in the absence of black powder?

MOVIE:  How durable is a watermelon rind?

PRESENTATION:  Do people actually know something (e.g. the back of their hand) “like the back of their hand”?


Beyond the excellent work that the students did throughout the class, they offered some thoughtful feedback on the class.  I asked a few simple questions for their consideration.  The questions and some sample responses are below:

What skills did you develop in this course?

  • In this course I developed skills such as the ability to think more outside of the box and the ability to think about a problem more in depth.
  • I learned how to solve and attempt to solve problems, how to view situations with new perspectives, and work as a teammate in small groups. I learned how it’s important to be flexible and be willing to adapt to changes that occur throughout the process of solving problems and working with other people.
  • I felt like I developed problem solving skills when working with a group. I also thought I developed skills in planning and utilizing time so it is best used. I also developed skills when working with a group to create a plan that everyone agreed with.
  • Nothing
  • I developed planning and problem-solving skills. In the course, it was important to have a plan in order to stay on track. We needed problem-solving in our group in order to think through what project to do and how to do it. I also improved at working in groups and doing self-reflection.I enhanced my skills of teamwork, problem solving, and building models.
  • I learned to find the flaws in an experiment before doing it.

Would you recommend this course to another student? Please explain.

  • Yes, I would recommend this course to another student because I feel that it is valuable in order to help develop problem solving skills and a problem solving mindset.
  • Yes, I would. I think that I would recommend this course to anyone who is curious about anything, because even if you may not be able to conduct experiments as dramatic as Myth Busters actually do, you will learn a lot from it in many different ways. It’s a very engaging and interesting course that will teach you about yourself as a worker and group member.
  • I would recommend this course to another student if they had an idea of a myth that they would like to bust. If they didn’t have a myth they wanted to bust, I would not recommend it. This is because they likely wouldn’t feel passionate enough about that myth to complete it for 7 whole weeks.
  • Not really, too much sitting around doing team building than actually myth busting.
  • I would recommend this course to another student as long as he or she is interested in testing a realistic myth (not just blowing things up) and willing to do work (as team and individual). Personally, I thought the class was pretty fun.
  • I honestly would not recommend this course to other students. I thought that it wasn’t made as fun and interesting as it could be and the course description did not match up with the course itself
  • Yes because it is a class where your experiment can be almost anything you want it to be within standards set by the teacher.

What could be done to improve this course?

  • I think that this course could be improved by taking a little time away from the planing phase and using that time in order to prepare our presentations and do some more experimenting.
  • For my group, personally, we felt like we were scrambling for time to finish our project because the last three to four weeks of the course crept up on us quickly. I don’t think that is a result of anything other than our own indecisiveness and confusion, but maybe one extra week at the beginning of the course to begin work could have been helpful. The course as a whole hardly needs any improvement! It was well-structured and thought out.
  • I would say one thing that could be done to improve this course is making the class times shorter. I felt that it was hard to sit through an entire class while paying attention. Overall though, I enjoyed this course.
  • We could have actually done myth busting earlier and more often
  • Tie in / explain the mini building challenges we did more. They were a challenge, but I did not see the point of them other than team-building strategies, which could have been achieved in other ways. It would have been good to get an explanation of the best strategy for each challenge we did.
  • I think that the busy work that is given to us at the beginning of classes should be taken away.
  • To improve this course you could get more resources for use. For our projects we could use anything we had at home/school or things that were very cheap such as watermelons.
  • Either give students more time to conduct their myth or make the course so we solve a different myth every class. Also all the peer reflections make the class less exciting.

What was your favorite aspect of this course?

  • My favorite aspect of this course was that I had the opportunity and means to try new and exciting things and to learn more about the complex and interesting world of myths that we live in.
  • I liked how we could create the structure and outcome of this course ourselves, according to what experiment or myth we chose to conquer. It was structured enough that we knew what to do and when to do it, but it was created on our own ideas and what we wanted to accomplish.
  • I liked getting to do the group work on our myth, such as scaling the wood of the door down first with math equations and then in real life.

My favorite aspect of this course would be the actual doing the myth (building and launching rockets)

  • My favorite aspect of this course was building things.

I  think this was a great first attempt at the full course (as opposed to the pilot).  Yes, there are things to work on for the spring.  However, when I see student feedback like the one below, I know we’re on the right track:

My favorite aspect of this course was that we got to chose the myth that we did. Looking back on it, I may have done a different myth, but I think it was important to be interested in the problem and by creating the problem students can make sure they are interested in it.



Week 6 – Time Gets Tight!

While a class that runs for 7 weeks and meets for 2.5 hours each session may seem to have more than enough time, students started to feel the crunch in week 6.  Most groups were actively working on wrapping up their experiments, building, and prototyping and were moving towards creating a meaningful representation of their work for their peers.

Again, I asked students to plan and reflect, reflect and plan…

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Once the reflecting and planning work was complete, students were off and running.  I was particularly impressed with the group working to build a Rube Goldberg machine that would turn on the light switch based on the vibration of a cellphone.  There was a lot of great experimenting, trying, failing, and trying again!

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Other groups continued to finish their testing…


or plan out their presentations… IMG_8018IMG_8017IMG_8016

I gave the students some guidance as to the presentations and summation of the class, but I did not want to direct them too much.  I provided them the following information:

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Given that groups were in different places with their work, some finished early.  I challenged the groups to build the tallest possible tower out of 50 Kiva planks.  Rather than just a way to fill time, I framed this work as a further way to build their team.  Consistent with their approach to the entire class, students jumped in an enjoyed the challenge!  IMG_8029


Week 5 – Planning and Reflecting

Reflect, plan, build, repeat.  As with previous sessions, week 5 was an active time in the life of the class!  The meetings started with an opportunity for students to check in on their contributions and progress, as well as that of their peers.  By centering feedback on team norms, students found it easier to offer feedback (both positive and constructive).


Slide32I took the time and read through the reflections from and about each student and then pulled themes together to share with each student in an individual conference.  In each of the conferences, I opened the conversation by asking students what they felt was working well and what was not.  I also offered students a chance to critique their course experience to date.  Students were open and honest and I have some good feedback for the next trimester.  Although the meetings were quick, students noted that they appreciated knowing where they stood with their project team.  I also observed a number of students building off their feedback and approaching the work of the week slightly differently based on what we discussed.

As these meetings were going on, groups continued to build and prototype.  Rather than allow them simply build without a plan, I urged each group develop a plan for the work of the week:


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At the end of week 5’s session, I again turned to the students to do some reflection.  My hope was that they would also see some improved team and individual performance:



Week 4 – Prototyping and Experimenting!

Today was all about getting stuff done…and the students were more than ready for the challenge!  We started by re-centering ourselves on the work ahead.  I provided them a simple framework to break down the day’s work and plan out the next several weeks

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We also took time to discuss the presentation/explanation of the work to be held in week 7:

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While I wanted to provide some guidance on the end product, I did not want to be too prescriptive.  I was careful to note for the class that they would all be watching/experiencing the presentations of the other groups.  With this in mind, I encouraged them to think about the experience of watching PowerPoint after PowerPoint.  Students clearly did not want this experience after a very active learning environment, so I am hopeful we will seem some interesting things.

From that point, students were off and running…

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Two groups were particularly active in their prototyping.  Their stories are profiled below.

Cutting a Watermelon

The picture below depicts and early failure of a group interested in testing the durability and strength of a watermelon rind.  After creating a small hole in their watermelon, the group tried to explode the rind with an air compressor.


While this particular trial did not work, the group figured out a lot about experimental variables and the question under study.  For instance, they discussed the need to get the hole just the right size, the depth to which the air hose is inserted, and the risk of air leaking around the hole.  From there, the group moved on to cutting a watermelon with rubber bands…


After successfully cutting the watermelon with over 300 rubber bands, they did a second trial.  Because they had used the watermelon from the failed air compressor experiment, the group decided to drill a similar hole in the watermelon for the second trial.  Surprisingly, the second watermelon required many, many more rubber bands.  The first trial proved quite messy, so we moved the experiment outside once they got close:


Their peers were EAGER to see how this unfolded, so we captured the moment in the following videos:  Real Time           Slow Motion

Rocket Propulsion

This group is interested in comparing the height to which a 2-L soda bottle can fly when propelled by different methods.  Today, the group created water rockets by filling the bottles with water and then adding air.  In doing so, I watched them design and create stability fins and think through the best launch method.  Their first trial is the very definition of a fast fail:

From here, the group figured out a better launch technique…success!

I am excited to see the groups come back to this work next week, continuing to push their learning.

Week 3 – The Question, Prototyping, and a Plan!

The goal for this week was for project teams to move into some type of prototyping by the end of our 2.5 h class meeting.  Overall, I would call it a success.

To get students warmed up and engaged, we started with a purposeful challenge: how many nails can be balanced on the head of another nail that is driven into a board?  Most of the group had not seen this before and their first attempts (ie prototypes) only allowed them to balance 4-6 nails.  These activities stayed on their work tables and by the end of the time together, students had figured it out.  The leading group balanced 20 nails!

I also wanted to give students a sense of the quality of thinking and science from the actual Myth Busters show, so we looked at and reflected on a wonderful clip that shows how good science, strong presentation, and even humor can all co-exist.  With the stage set, we shifted into reflection and prototyping.  Depending on the number of questions still under consideration, students either did some processing of possible solutions and approaches individually or as a group.

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Today’s class certainly cast me in the role of facilitator.  I moved around to each group and asked questions about their process, progress, and prototyping.   Although one might expect student energy and engagement to flag during a 2.5 h course, the energy and activity of the room was tremendous as shown by this video: .

Here are some of the questions under consideration:

  • Can we launch a rocket in the absence of black powder?
  • Do people actually know something “like the back of their hand?”
  • Rube Goldberg Challenge: Can we use the vibration of a cell phone to turn on a light switch?
  • Can you test the strength of a watermelon using different methods?
  • In the movie Titanic, could both Jack and Rose have survived by climbing on the floating door?

By the end of the time together, each project team had refined their question and pulled together a list of materials.

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Some groups even had prototyped and began to experiment.

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A surprising, but very pleasing discovery was the inclusion of “just in time” learning that was happening throughout the day.  From the exploration of buoyancy variables to discovery of important experimental frameworks, students were learning what they needed to know when they needed to know it and for a question of their own creation.  I could not be more pleased with how today went!




Idea Generation and Narrowing – Week 2

The work of week 2 was to build a strong collection of researchable ideas and then provide the guidance necessary for students to narrow down the scope of their work.  This process began by asking students to reflect on the ideas they animated for homework in week 1.  For each idea in their notebook, students were to develop a pre-research plan: “What do I know?” and “What do I need to know?”  IMG_1279By opening their thinking about these questions at this point, students were prompted to consider the gulf between their current level of understanding and everything else.  The difference between these two places was a natural starting point for actual research.


From there, students were asked to develop a research plan based on the template below.  Again, students were asked to do this for every idea they animated.


At this point, students found that some ideas were impractical.  Others found this process opened up new ideas for possible consideration.  Either way, students then evaluated their research plans – the future course of their work – according to a series of simple yes/no questions.


All told, the prior process took around 75 minutes.  Given that the work was largely done within project teams, the entire class assembled to present to one another and move into a feedback phase.  Each group was given a large sheet of paper where they wrote down their revised research question.  From there, students moved around and provided written feedback on the sheet according to the protocol below…


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With the input of peers, students were ready to refine their questions and research plans…


With a research plan in place, students spent time addressing how they would answer their remaining questions…


For homework, they were asked to do some categorization as a way to narrow the scope of their thinking…

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Modeling the Course in a Class

The purpose of our first class meeting was to help students understand the arc of the 7-week course within the span of an hour.  We began by customizing our journals with a superhero of our creation or the superhero that best represents individual strengths.  While this may have seemed a little juvenile, the activity helped students open up, meet other people in the course, and do something right out of the gate.

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With journals at the ready, we did a superhero related assessment of strengths and weaknesses (credit: DEEPdt Playbook).


This activity was successful in that it helped students interact with one another and learn about their classmates.  From there, we moved into the first challenge activity.  In semi-engineered groups of three, students were asked to build a tower using limited supplies.  Each group had 10 minutes and at the end of the time, they were required to be “hands off” and walk away from the work.


Lots of great student work…


The challenge helped get them working in teams and trying ideas (prototyping).  From prototyping, I introduced the reflection and self-reflection.  With prompts, each student did some individual reflection before some sharing out with the entire group.  There was a chance to reflect on individual contribution as well as team dynamics.


After the report out to the full class and an acknowledgement of successful team dynamics, the students were given a fresh set of supplies and asked to try again.  It was interesting to note that the most successful team in the first trial was also the most successful in the second trial.  And again there was an opportunity for reflection.


The chance to work with different individuals on a concrete problem had us off to a great start.  From here, students assembled into 3-person teams of their choosing.  Students were then asked to agree on team norms.


 The idea behind this work is that the groups will stay together over the 7-week course.  Without some initial agreement and buy-in on how teams will function (and the learning that comes from strong and weak group dynamics), students may find themselves without the necessary language and support framework to have a difficult conversation.  With some conversation and recording of team norms in the journals, we again reported out to the full class.  From there, students were asked to create a team logo and record their team norms.

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These large post-its are in the Fab Lab and will remain there for the duration of the course.  It was interesting to observe groups during the creation of the logos and ask if they were practicing the team norms to which they had just agreed.  I received lots of interesting looks…

Once logos and norms were complete, they moved into brainstorming mode.  I encouraged students to avoid putting up “stop signs” and “speed bumps.”  By generating lots of ideas in this moment, they would open up possibilities down the road.


These ideas also ended up on a post-it for other groups to see.  With that complete, we had just enough time to assign homework for next week…