In the spring of 2021, the 6th grade science teacher and I began forming a plan. She had seen the engagement of 6th graders in our afterschool Maker Days program and wanted to find a way to bring that into her classroom so that ALL of our 6th graders could have this opportunity. We applied for and received a stipend from our school to work on designing the collaboration over the summer. We both read the book Making Science: Reimagining STEM Education in Middle School and Beyond, and we also collaborated on Google Docs and in Zoom meetings to plan out the project.
Our focus was on building design and creativity into the existing curriculum in her class. It gave us a chance to introduce our makerspace and the library to our 6th graders early on, making them more comfortable coming into the space and giving me a chance to get to know them better.
Terp Tank Safety Device Design Challenge
The collaboration consists of three different projects throughout the school year, about one each quarter the first three quarters. This project, TerpTank is the first one. It took place over the course of four school days, though that time frame could be compressed if it’s too long for your school’s schedule.
I’m sharing what we did here as an example, but please understand that every school is different. If you want to adapt this and try something a little different, go for it. Maker projects should be designed to fit the needs of your school and students, not to fit a prescribed timeline.
Introducing Terp Tank
Like many science classes, our 6th grade curriculum starts off with learning about basic science lab safety. To make this lesson more engaging for our students, we created TerpTank. This is a play off of the show Shark Tank and our school mascot, the Terrapins. For our TerpTank Design Challenge, students work in groups and design and build a prototype for a new lab safety device. Here’s the challenge:
Using what you’ve learned about lab safety, come up with a design for a new science lab safety device. Think about potential problems or hazards in a science lab and how your device could help solve them. You’ll design and build a prototype using recycled materials available in our lab. Your group will then create a pitch presentation about why our school should purchase your device to a guest judge.
For more ideas on creating design challenge prompts, check out my book, Challenge Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace.
Brainstorming the Safety Device
Students worked in groups of four and started off with one class period of brainstorming time. They discussed possible ideas, drew out blueprints for their device, etc. They had to answer a few specific questions on their brainstorm sheet, which included:
- What will the dimensions of the real life object be (prototype could be smaller)?
- What materials will the actual product be made out of?
- How much would it cost per unit for the school?
- What will your prototype be made out of?
Giving students a full period to brainstorm helped them to solidify and hash out their ideas before building.
Design and Build
We gave students two class periods to work on the design and build process. I talk more about the materials and supplies we purchased in this post. For TerpTank, students were allowed to use the following:
- An unlimited amount of cardboard
- Hot glue guns, cardboard cutters, packing tape dispensers, markers, rubber bands, etc
- Up to three types of items from our recycled materials bin, including: paper towel tubes, yogurt cups, styrofoam trays, plastic and paper egg cartons, and other assorted recyclables
Students collaborated to build their prototype in a way that would help them to show and demonstrate what their product would do. For many of our 6th graders, this was their first time ever using an electric cardboard cutter. While a little timid at first, they quickly dove in and starting building amazing projects.
Some groups began to realize on the first day of building that their original plan wasn’t going to work. They brainstormed new ideas and began building those instead. Many other groups made tweaks and modifications as they got further along with their prototype and began testing out some of the functionality.
Pitch and Presentation
After building their prototypes, students had to prepare a SharkTank style pitch of their product. Many students came up with brand names and slogans. The second year we did this project, we added in a requirement that students had to make a slideshow with pictures of their project in their presentation. While we didn’t have that originally, we found that it was a great way to start getting 6th graders more comfortable with presenting and gave us some great teachable moments about what makes a good presentation.
Our guest judges varied by class period and including our middle school principal and assistant principal (head and assistant head of the middle school), the science department head and other science teachers. The students came up with fantastic presentations and were great at answering questions. I think we might need to work on our economics through, as the pricing was all over the place.
Adapt the Safety Device Challenge for your school
You probably won’t have a safety device challenge that looks exactly the same as TerpTank. Maybe yours is a one-period quick design challenge, or part of an afterschool STEM maker club. Perhaps you scale this up or down depending on the age group you’re working with. The joy of design challenges is that they’re incredibly adaptable and can be tailored to work for your specific needs.
Have you held a Safety Device Design Challenge with your students? How did it go?