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Monday, November 23, 2009

Embrace the Crappiness

I am going to EMBRACE THE CRAPPINESS OF THE PLANES. That's my new mantra for our science expedition on the physics of flight. Embrace the crappiness.
  The kids have learned about the forces of flight and are now building planes for our flight contest. The last time I did this expedition, we bought a bunch of balsa wood kits, separated out all of the different plane parts, had 4 or 5 different choices for which wings you could choose, which plane body, which tail, and which rudder. There was also a choice of making it a glider or a propeller plane. They had to think about each part they chose and explain why they had chosen it for their plane. Still, though, many kids just picked the blue wings to go with the blue tail to go with the blue rudder, because they were the coolest-looking ones and seemed to go together. The planes were cool, but mostly all looked the same, with a couple of interesting adaptations - a couple of sets of double wings, and one with helium-balloons attached to give (in theory) more lift.
  THIS TIME around, we wanted to make building the planes more of a design and revision process, so we are not using kits! Oh--the potential for unique designs! I envisioned them thinking outside the box, without the confines of the kit pieces! We ordered large sheets of foam with limitless flight possibilities. We planned to have two flight contests, so if their first design did fly how they wanted it to. They'd come to the understanding that if something doesn't work the first time, you revise, and try again. "Mistakes help us learn!" they'll certainly cheer in unison at some point.
  We tried to scaffold their plans to help them decide how to get more lift, less pull of gravity, less drag, and more thrust. They could choose what parts to make, the size of each part, the shape--even the materials to use. They could choose different thickness of foam based on what we assumed would be their carefully considered design specifications. At the last minute I even threw in sort of a red herring choice of materials--corrugated cardboard. "Maybe one or two kids will pick this" I thought. "But surely most kids will see that foam gliders will have infinitely better performance than using the practically leaden cardboard."
  We've been building the planes and doing some preliminary test flights. And...they're a disaster! Many of the kids have been making theses miniscule planes that fly practically no farther than past the end of their shoes. So tiny! Some planes are comprised of an oblong, vaguely plane-ish shaped body and a set of tiny wings stuck through. They drop like a ton of bricks. In our reflection this afternoon, one student said, "I thought it was going to stay in the air a lot longer, but it just went straight down." A surprising number of kids ended up choosing cardboard, and it's not working out to be the optimal material they thought it somehow would be. I've been standing along the runway/hall, watching spectacular crash after spectacular crash. Some planes go no farther than you could just THROW a wad of cardboard. And I've been getting really frustrated about the possibility of ever ending up with planes that actually FLY.
  Today I realized that this was THE POINT! We're going to REVISE after this first draft plane, and learn from our mistakes. The more terribly your plane flies this time around - the more chance you have to improve it. Revision is not neat and tidy, and it sometimes takes a while to get to the improved version.

And so, I'm going to EMBRACE THE CRAPPINESS OF THE PLANES. Ahhh.

2 comments:

Nick James said...

I remember once having a paper plane competition with the kids in my after school program. They were each given a limited set of material, paper and tape etc. The winner by far was the group who rolled the paper into a ball, taped the edge and just lobbed it across the hall. Not the intended learning outcome.

Sarah Garb said...

You do have to admire the thinking outside the box...but I would have been annoyed that they had found that loophole :) Today we worked on our revisions....so we'll see! If worse comes to worse, I can always hint to a couple of kids to try the balled up approach!