Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mississippi River Institute Wednesday July 29: Engineering Challenges

by Steven Beardsley

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - Day 3

Opening & Journal Illumination

Participants "illuminating" their journals

John Shepard and Tracy Fredin talk about "Life and Death on the Mississippi"
David started off our last day by having participants share their fiction and non-fiction pieces they wrote on yesterday. Many participants shared stories regarding macroinvertebrates such as a damselfly larva while others wrote haikus and talked about the importance of protecting the river. David then had everyone “illuminate” important parts of their stories by using colored pencils to highlight and/or underline key parts after sharing in small groups. After this introductory activity, CGEE’s John Shepard gave a presentation on CGEE’s "Life & Death on the Mississippi"and other assorted multimedia including a look at the multimedia being developed to highlight bridge construction after the recent Stillwater bridge construction. The presentation was very informative while giving teacher’s an overview of additional history regarding the Mississippi river and how to utilize multimedia in their classrooms.

Engineering Challenges

David starts dividing participants into groups for the challenges

The next part of the day involved participants getting into 6 different groups to engage in various engineering challenges. These activities involved working in groups of four to construct solutions to various challenges such as finding out an effective way of cleaning up an “oil” spill with only Spanish moss, paper towel, cotton balls, soap, and other materials. Other challenges included constructing a paddle boat that could stay afloat for a certain amount of minutes with weight on it, getting water from the top of a slope to cups at the bottom, getting rubber ducks to achieve neutral buoyancy, and more. Participants also recorded their observations periodically and got a chance to work as a team to achieve group goals.

Participants worked together to construct floating canoes

This station involved figuring out an effective way of cleaning up an "oil spill"
Another station involved getting water to travel down a slope through cups and straws

“Sum of the Parts” & Final hike to Pike Island

David leads participants through "Sum of the Parts"
After lunch, participants got into small groups to line up their pictures of 1 million dollar developments along the river. The drawings were part of the “Sum of the Parts” activity where participants were given exactly 1 million dollars to build whatever they wanted over major waterway. While participants talked about their various designs and how they impacted the river, each individual was required to give the next person in line a personal item (often a pen but sometimes car keys) until people at the end were carrying a large pile of peoples’ personal items. The activity was meant to symbolize how the items of people at the top of the river may impact those that live at the very bottom. Teachers also got a chance to discuss best management practices and how to engage students who do not know how having a boat or expensive property may impact the river and the quality of life of their neighbors and nearby wildlife.

David explains the history of the Three Islands park 

The last part of the day involved a hike to Pike Island where David gave a lecture on the history of glaciers that moved along and formed the various river valleys. He also had participants consider various questions from the height of various bridges such as the Highway 5 Bridge and how the movement of glaciers in the past impacted the construction of bridges and travel of boats and recreational vehicles down the river today. We also had an opportunity to see the river one last time and take a group picture before participants had a chance to reflect on what they’d learn and pack up for the day.

Participants get their feet wet by the river

Concluding Thoughts

Mississippi River Institute 2015

Overall, the institute was another resounding success with a group of teachers coming together to discuss ways of integrating outside inquiry into their curriculum. I think another important part of the institute was having teachers act as learners but also giving them the chance to think about how various disciplines such as language arts, science, math, and engineering complement one another. Instead of thinking about activities and disciplines as being separate, participants learned how to integrate various disciplines in order to make learning both fun and engaging. My hope is that their students will get the chance to really learn, experience, and enjoy the environment around them and to understand the importance that major waterways such as the Mississippi River have on our day to day lives.

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