Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Children's Engineering: Long Ago and Today

      We just had our school wide Engineering Fair and it was a HUGE success!  My school is located in Albemarle County, Virginia which is home to the University of Virginia.  Several classrooms in my building were working with The University's Curry School of Education and the UVA School of  Engineering since the start of school last fall.  We were given printers and fabricators to use with software (Fablab and Community Construction) that was designed by people in the Engineering department at UVA.  I was one of the fortunate teachers that got to work with these talented people.  We worked on several different projects but our favorite is the comparison communities we made showing Long Ago and Today.  One of our state's Standards of Learning (SOL's) is comparing life from today with that of long ago. 
Before I even began to teach this concept I showed the kids pictures and read books about buildings.  We talked about the shapes that we saw in them.  Then we did a wonderful art project I found on 
that had to do with shapes and buildings. Here are some samples of the finished product.

 When I began to teach the SOL, I  started out by reading the book "A Street Through Time" and having the kids tell me as we went through each era what they saw that stayed the same and what was different.

We brainstormed all businesses and buildings that we see here in Charlottesville and then made a list.  We sorted them into different sections such as businesses that help us, ones that keep us safe, ones that are fun, etc.  This tied into our Economics Unit of Needs and Wants and Buyers and Sellers.

 We then designed our community and decided what "Earth" features we wanted in it.  We knew that all living things need water, so the kids said we would need to have either a lake or a river.  They ended up deciding that they wanted both.  They continued to design the community putting in a railroad, roads and bridges. 

Then we were ready to plan our community: where we wanted the buildings to go. We used squares of paper and the conversation the kids had doing this was awesome.  They really thought out where things should go and thought about the problems that may come from a placement.  It was really amazing to hear them at this young age problem solve together.

Now it was time to work with our friends from UVA.  They came in along with our Gifted Resource teacher and the kids worked on the computers making their buildings.  They used the Community Construction software and each child made 4 buildings.  2 businesses from today, 1 home from today and 1 home from long ago.  The kids got to pick the size of their buildings along with the siding that would go on it.  Again, they did a fantastic job thinking about what the building should look like.  I went online and found different kinds of roofs and sidings for them to choose from.

  From there we printed and fabricated the buildings.  The kids loved watching them come out of the machine (it's called a Silhouette) and seeing the buildings go from a 2D shape into a 3D shape. 

When all of the buildings were finished, we then went back to our community we mapped out and started to put the buildings down.   The comparison between the Community of Today with that of Long Ago came alive before their eyes. 

 It was a very fun way to learn about the differences.

Our Community of Today

  Our Long Ago Community

 Here are what some of the buildings looked like close up.

Look at the details in the sidings and the roofs, pretty cool!

Then we wrote about all we did to make these communities, the struggles and the triumphs we experienced.  We also wrote about the comparisons between the two communities, what would be the same and different from living Today and Long Ago.

   Our final step will be to go on a field trip to a Living History Museum called the Frontier Culture Museum located in Staunton, Virginia that has houses from Long Ago.  The cool part is my kids will be looking not only on how they looked, lived and dressed but also at the architecture of the buildings. 

                   I've attached the design brief that I wrote for this project.


  1. This is amazing! I am so jealous!


  2. Love what you have done! So creative!

  3. wow, I love this! UN REAL how great of an idea it is! WAY TO GO!

  4. Great idea! We use Engineering is Elementary from the Museum of Science in Boston in conjunction with Stevens Institute of Technology. I will be blogging about the program soon. I've done marble rollercoasters, Three Little Pigs houses and Roofs, and Bridges. Check out my page -

    Miss B, Busy Bee

  5. That is soooo cool :) Nice work !

  6. Wow!!! This is impressive! I'd love to do this in my classroom! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Great inspiration! Thank you for your detailed post. Is it possible to "see inside" your booklets?

  8. I am a first grade teacher in Spain. I would like to do it with my students too but I have problems downloading your brief.
    Is it possible to have a copy?

  9. I am a first grade teacher in Spain. I would like to do it with my students too but I have problems downloading your brief.
    Is it possible to have a copy?

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  12. I would love to access your design brief, Leanna