School in Detroit, Michigan
eighth grade technology
11, Lessons For Life. Segment begins approximately 14 minutes
45 seconds into the program.
Primary Learning Objectives
Students who successfully complete the activities
should be able to:
- explore the relationships of different materials and designs
on the strength and cost of structures
- work in a team environment to solve problems
- apply their prior knowledge from different fields of study
to a new problem or situation, and to build new knowledge
- describe key features of a company and the roles different
professionals play in it
- describe how organizations use money or other resources
to negotiate trades that may benefit both
Student groups run "companies" that
have a budget and other considerations as they plan and build
toothpick bridges. Conditions change during construction and
students must adapt and often barter to complete their projects.
Lesson plans adapted from Building Toothpick
Bridges by Jeanne Pollard (Dale Seymour, 1985)
Learning Theories to Consider
- Learning and Transfer
- Structure of the Disciplines
- Creating Classrooms and Schools That
In this scenario Don Johnson sets up his eighth
grade students to become engineers in a bridge-building project.
Students are assigned to five-member "companies"
and are charged with building a bridge with toothpicks. There
are multiple tasks involved including applying mathematics,
the principles of design, and the principals of physics. The
students are given a budget for construction, and they are
required to consider factors such as the cost of land as well
as the cost of materials. Each company is in a friendly competition
with the other companies as they consider carefully how to
allocate their resources to complete their bridge.
Halfway through the project, the cost of materials
is increased "due to inflation brought on by national
events." Companies are required to look at their resources
to determine if they can afford to assist failing companies
without endangering the completion of their own bridge. Students
become entrepreneurs by taking advantage of opportunities
to sell materials to struggling companies at a lower cost
than originally announced by their teacher.
Johnson demonstrates Learning and Transfer
by providing his students with a knowledge-rich environment
to transfer what they know fundamentally about the principals
of physics to an actual event, "building a bridge."
Over a period of time, the students provide each other with
feedback and self-monitoring as they construct their bridge.
Johnson's class is an elective class in technology that receives
in-kind support from a professional engineering society. Creating
bridges of another sort to the community is an example of
Creating a Classroom That Supports Learning.
When Johnson begins the assignment with helping
students to remember the principals of physics and the principles
of design, he is using the Structure of the Disciplines
learning theory. He states that he wants students to understand
that "science is not unconnected." These principles
become the core knowledge students will retrieve as they construct
new learning to complete their bridge. Johnson models Motivation
as he encourages students
to take risks without contemplating failure. He
provides them with concrete positive feedback that identifies
their strengths while helping them to reassess what is working
and what is not working in their construction. An important
part of this learning is helping students to feel self-confident
in approaching new situations armed only with their ability
to know how to learn.
Sequenced Writing Assignments
- Make a list of up to five
key ideas from each of the four learning theories presented:
learning and transfer, the structure of the disciplines,
motivation, and creating classrooms that support
learning. Next, try to identify a way the teacher applied
each of those key ideas as he planned and executed his learning
activities. For example, under "structure of the disciplines,"
you might list "student work is reviewed under the
general principles followed in the field of study -- the
final product of building the bridge was evaluated by its
strength and how well it met the budget, the same tests
used by engineers."
You may find it useful to put your list in the form of a table.
We have provided templates in either Word
format if you choose to do this.
You may find that some key ideas from the learning theories
are not represented in the scenario. For now, leave a blank
space after them. You will also find that you are repeating
some of the things the teacher did because they are applications
of key ideas from more than one learning theory.
- Review your list of key ideas and fill in
the blanks from Assignment A by suggesting things the teacher
could do to apply the key ideas you listed but did NOT see
represented already. Suggest other practical things the
teacher could do to incorporate key learning theory ideas
into his classroom activities.
Reflect on the completed
table and record your reflections about how the theories
intersect or interact. How might your own teaching practices
take advantage of what you see happening in this scenario?
- As an alternative to these tasks, follow
the directions of your group leader or the teacher of your
class to write about this scenario and how one or more learning
theories might apply to it. Or decide as a group how you
might use it as a case for further study and discussion.
Samples and tools to help you with the scenario
- Sample rubrics in html
format to assess your writings
sample for Scenario Four, Assignments A and B, (in PDF
fromat) to use as a model
- Templates in Word
format for the assignments