In the Classroom – Physical Science

The Amazing Spaghetti Tool

High school science, ugh! Listening to lectures, taking notes, working problems, reading and for some highlighting important passages in the textbook, more lectures, more notes, more homework problems and the tests. Oh my my the tests. Make the note cards, study the note cards, recite the note cards, take the test, answer the multiple-choice questions, work the problems…… Is this all there is to science? Not in Mr. Mason’s classroom. Well, there are lectures and notes and homework and tests. But this is only part one. Part two is invention. Students are challenged to apply all that knowledge and make something. Mr. Ritterskamp isn’t the only science teacher implementing STEM in the classroom.

Freshmen Physical Science introduces students to high school physics and chemistry. In the fall, students study simple machines as part of the physics unit. After learning all about simple machines – inclined planes, levers, pulleys, etc.,   students are challenged to design and build a unique tool specifically for the purpose of eating spaghetti which incorporates at least three simple machines. As part of the design process, students make a scale diagram and plans for their tool before building and testing commences. Since this project comes after students have studied forces, work, power, and machines, Mr. Mason requires that they be able to explain how their machine will work. This legwork tests students’ knowledge and also exposes them to how a project is conceived and designed in a world outside of the classroom.

Once students have designed their tools, the work of making the tool begins. All the designing and diagramming of the tool takes place in the classroom so that Mr. Mason can give feedback and suggestions when they are needed. But once the designs are locked-in, students begin working not only in the classroom but also at home. Mr. Mason encourages students to use items that they can find at school or at home rather than going out and buying a bunch of materials. This negates extra money being spent on school supplies but more importantly forces students to be creative and find a way to work with what they have.

The project deadline arrives. The tools are built. Now everyone is ready for a free spaghetti lunch. But there’s a catch and this is the part Mr. Mason really enjoys. (Have you ever seen a toddler learn to eat sauce-covered spaghetti?) The students must use their tools to eat.

More and more education is focusing on knowledge plus application. STEM curriculum is one way to do this. Mr. Mason writes, “I really like this project because it lets kids apply what they have learned in class and be creative in coming up with something that is all their own.  The project is great reinforcement for the material we are covering in the curriculum.  Students seem to enjoy the whole process, but they definitely like to watch each other when the machines come out and the spaghetti starts to fly. Other than being a lot of fun and tying in well to the curriculum, this project is special because I have never seen anything else out there like it.  Students are often initially sad to find out that there are no YouTube videos, pictures or descriptions of these things on the web (so far). This is fairly unique these days as many students will just look up “ideas” as opposed to coming up with them on their own.  The creative process is an integral part of learning, especially in science.  I think projects that grab a student’s attention, get them really thinking, and that reinforce what they are learning in the class are absolutely central to a good science education, and I am continually looking for new and better ways to work them into my classes.”

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