Thursday, July 7, 2016

St. Croix River Institute Wednesday, June 29: Engineering Challenges & Final River Reflection

By Steven Beardsley
Wednesday June 29, 2016 – Day 3

Sil the Cat and Ed the Engineer
High School Physics Teacher reads his creative piece about Sil and Ed
The last day of the institute opened up with teachers sharing either the creative piece or scientific journal entry based on what they did yesterday. We had some interesting field entries on damselflies with poems and stories on forest inquiry and the river. A high school Physics teacher also shared a fun story about Sil and Ed with Sil being trapped up in a tree and Ed trying to get her down. At the end of the story though, Sil managed to get down on her own, showing Ed who "controls" the relationship. It was a fun opening that also led to some discussions around the importance of including engineering with science.

Field Journal Entry on a Dragonfly Larva
Poem about Dragonflies and Damselflies

Exploring “Waters to the Seas” and Bridge Construction
CGEE's John Shepard goes over multimedia 
The second part of the morning involved CGEE’s own John Shepard giving a demonstration of CGEE’s latest multimedia projects along with some revamped old ones. The first one focused on the construction of bridges inspired by the bridge being built by Stillwater. It combines physics concepts such as torsion, ductility, and how forces interact with bridges along with the history of bridge creation and destruction in the U.S. Overall, it was a fun and interactive demonstration as the multimedia combines videos as well as opportunities to use different everyday shapes to build bridges. John also demonstrated CGEE’s latest multimedia touchscreen table that allows up to four people to watch videos and work with interactive games and puzzles.

This followed a revamped version of the Waters to the Seas multimedia (provide link) with new rendering of the “Journey of the Raindrop” and “Water Cycle” modules. All of these can be used in classrooms, and were made possible by some grants that CGEE managed to get the past couple of years. We have our own version of the table at the Center and hope to get it in some state parks nearby.

David demonstrates getting students involved n Engineering with a video of his youngest daughter

After that interactive demonstration David showed teachers the importance of getting students to do engineering projects with some help from parents if taken home but encouraging more guidance and problem solving from the student. He demonstrated this by providing a video of his youngest daughter who read “The Billy Goat’s Gruff” in class and then had to construct a way to get the goat across a river. She managed, with some help from David and his wife, to create a zipline system with a Barbie car to safely zip the Billy coat over the cliff and across the river.

Engineering Challeng es

"Irrigation" Challenge
"Oil Spill" Challenge
Actually, David’s oldest daughter also joined us in some Engineering challenges that divided teachers into six groups. The first was a “Oil Spill” challenge where teachers had to use various materials such as moss, paper towels, and soap to clean up an oil mixture in tanks of water. Another was an “Irrigation” challenge that had teachers get water down from one cup to three others in equal amounts. Another involved ducks achieving neutral buoyancy neutral buoyancy.

"Can you Canoe?" Challenge
New Challenge based on 1800's settlers crossing a river
"Neutral Buoyancy" Challenge

"Water Filtration" Challenge

We also had a water filtration challenge, a “Can you Canoe?” challenge that involved participants creating a canoe that could self propel itself and hold a certain amount of weight in the water, and a final new activity that David’s daughter joined. This new activity went well with history and language arts because it involved either roleplaying as settlers in the 1800’s or bankers who needed to cross the river. The parameters of the challenge for the settlers meant that they had to design a raft that would float for two minutes. We got some creative designs that teachers got to show and teach one another as each group rotated to the next one. You can see more pictures of the groups on the facebook page. If you are interested in seeing some designs you can comment below, but we do not put the images up so that we do not spoil the challenges/give hints to teachers who are planning on attending the institutes in the future.

The combined river groups for the "Sum of the Parts" activity
“Sum of the Parts” and Final River Reflection
After the Engineering challenges and lunch, teachers got to take out their million dollar homes and place them together to represent homes along a river. We got a variety of properties from a “Pretty Pink Princess Castle” (One of David’s daughters drew that one), to various cabins with rain gardens and other homes with boats. Teachers got to talk about what kind of impact their homes would have on the river especially on homes that were at the very end of the river or right next to them. To represent this impact each teacher put something that they carried in a bucket and passed it to the next one. This activity also led to a discussion of point and non-point pollution as well as relating activities and content to current events such as Minnesota’s current concerns with agricultural runoff.

Poison Ivy: Leaves of 3 with a woody stem
David reads us a poem about the St. Croix River before we spend our alone time by it
The final part of the day involved a short walk down to a clearing by the river. We divided into three groups with David, Ed, and Sil each leading a group. Depending on the group, teachers got to learn and experience different things. Sil’s group got to learn more about the different birds and bird calls while David’s group got to do some tree rubbings and learn more about the different kinds of trees leading down to the clearing. David also had us explore a little before reading a poem about the river and having each of us find our own spot to either draw, write, and/or reflect in the river.

Concluding thoughts
The 2016 St. Croix River Institute Cohort
This year’s institute was a resounding success with perfect weather and great reflections and ideas from teachers from a variety of subjects. It still amazes me how the institute is capable of combining history with creative writing and science and engineering. This year’s institute also seemed to encourage teachers to push their students to inquire for themselves and to see how what they are learning relates to current issues around water, the environment, and engineering challenges and problems around us. I’m very excited for the next and my last Mississippi River institute at the end of July. Thanks for reading and if you are interested in learning more about/participating in the institutes feel free to comment or contact Sara Robertson at

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