The Grade One students have been learning about the various types of shelters that animals use and why it is important for animals to live in homes that meet their specific needs. As a class, we brainstormed different types of animal shelters like nests, caves, burrows and other underground homes.
Once the children had formed a solid understanding of the various shelters, I presented the students with a challenge. Their challenge was to build a shelter for a dog. Together, we discussed what necessities would be needed in a dog shelter and what may not be needed. The students were put into groups and were given one material that they would be able to use to build the dog shelter; one group was given wooden blocks, another big pieces of Lego and the last group, foam blocks.
The students were instructed to take a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) approach when working on this in-class assignment. First, students created a blueprint of what they thought the dog shelter should look like, and then they got to build their shelter. While building their shelter, students were heard saying “we need walls to keep the dog safe”, “we need to make the wall longer, so the dog has more room in his house” and “we can’t use this block; it has a hole in it”. Each group was collaborating as young engineers, to solve a real-world problem using concepts learned in Science class.
One of the groups started making their house on the carpet, but they were having trouble keeping the wooden blocks up, so they asked if they could move to a harder surface so the blocks wouldn’t fall over so easily. Once the shelters were built, the groups presented their work to their classmates.
After lunch, we sat down and reflected on what went well, what was challenging, and what we could have done to make the shelters better. One of the groups spoke about how they were so focused on making the roof pointy until they looked outside and saw that the building next door had a flat roof; they then decided that their shelter could have a flat roof. Another group spoke about how the foam blocks were of different sizes and that they needed another foam block in the middle of the house in order for the roof to cover the whole shelter.
In the spirit of taking a STEM approach to complete the project, the students engineered and then re-engineered their original plans, as they saw fit, in order to improve their shelter for the dog. The students have carried on this project into their free time, and they can often be found building new shelters for other animals and discussing why various animals would need certain characteristics in their shelters. This lesson wasn’t just about animals’ shelters or about building structures. As a result of applying a STEM approach, the project transformed into a collaborative and inter-disciplinary activity that challenged and engaged the students’ imagination, creativity and scientific knowledge in solving a real-world problem.