Repairing the Dam

Here is a conversation we overheard today.

Stanley and Jamal were working on repairing their dam. Stanley said, “I don’t want to get my hands dirty if we need to repair the dam.”
Jamal replied, “Beavers use their mouth and their paws to mix the mud and they don’t care. Why should you? We can just go and wash our hands.”
Stanley responded, “You make a good point” and then dug in.


Building Challenge: Marble Ramps

Today and yesterday, students have been building marble ramps out of cardboard tubes, plastic marble run parts, and refrigerator packaging. Yesterday, some of the students built a marble ramp in the classroom. In addition to a ramp, they created a wall so the marbles didn’t go flying across the classroom. LaQuan was working on this and told Ms. Alicia that he, “want(s) to draw a blueprint of the Super Marble Run” and “make improvements and test out the marble spheres.” Other students put together plastic pieces to make a ramp. IMG_3902 IMG_3906 IMG_3907 IMG_3909

Today we used long, thick cardboard tubes and three different kinds of balls. We tested what we had to do to make the balls go through the tubes and how the speeds of the different balls compared (the marble was always the fastest!). One of the tubes had a bend in it, and even though the marble would go through, the bouncy ball kept getting stuck. The students loved chasing the balls around the hallway and experimenting with the angle of the tube to make the ball go farther and faster.

The Beaver Challenge

Today the students completed a “Beaver Challenge” to help them understand how much beavers carry on an average day and where the phrase “busy as a beaver” came from.

A single beaver moves over 500 pounds of sticks on an average day. To help the students visualize this number and get a sense of how much work that is, we had them work in pairs to drag a 40 pound jug of water down the hallway. We used 12 jugs of water, so as a class we moved almost as much as a single beaver does in one day.

The students (and teachers) had a lot of fun with this activity!

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Finishing and Testing Our Beaver Dams

This week we finished building our Beaver dams out of twigs, rocks and mud.


Then we tested our dams. Each group presented their dam to the class and then poured water on the sides to see if the dam would keep the water from going through. Some of the dams were initially successful at keeping water from going through, but others were not. Our students were very excited to test their dams!

Students watching the presentations:

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Groups presenting and testing their dams:

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We told the students that we would look again on Monday morning to see what had happened!

Beavers are Nature’s Engineers

This week we read Engineers Solve Problems, a book about engineering. At the end of the book, it mentions that beavers are animal engineers. Our students were fascinated by this idea and were very curious about how beavers can build dams that don’t let water through. The students were stunned that engineers look to animals and nature for ideas about how to solve engineering problems. “So they actually watch what the animals do and then experiment to make it work for people?” Jamal asked. “I never thought of that.” They thought it was amazing that beavers could gnaw down a tree and then drag it to where they want it. They loved that part of the dam is above the water and part of it is below the water and were impressed that animals could build such a thing.

In the Focus on K2 Curriculum, Unit 2 is Animals and Habitats. Due to our students’ interest and our focus on engineering, we are going to study beavers. Our students started asking these following questions: How beavers build dams? What materials do they use? Why dams don’t wash away? How do they build it above and below the water? Can we build an effective dam? Why do they have orange teeth? (“I just want to know why, Ms. Carla,” said Amarylis about the teeth.) During snack, one of our students asked if we could watch a beaver video.

Our students are so excited about beavers and we want to conduct research and answer their questions. We want them to know what research is.

Delving deeper the topic of beavers will give our students  ownership over the curriculum and empower students to take charge and make decisions about their own learning. We want them to be able to think about what is true and false and weigh the evidence they have. We also want them to be able to look at things from multiple perspectives and think about the alternative possibilities (What would happen if we build a dam with just sticks?). We want to focus on the engineering process and talk about how it’s relevant to their lives and why they should care about what we are learning.  These habits of mind are the framework for what we are teaching.

Students have been going outside during recess and collecting twigs and rocks because they really want to make a beaver dam. They have also been trying to make make dams in the block area out of the blocks we have, tongue depressors, plastic trees and rocks. We are going to build beaver dams later this week out of natural materials that are found in our schoolyard.

We are also going to talk about the importance of teamwork for beavers and how when beavers build a dam it creates a new community in the little pond that forms. This will tie back to the Community unit we just finished.

We believe that focusing on one animal more deeply (beavers) rather than trying to teach about a bunch of different animals will help our students become critical thinkers and that by connecting what students know to that we are studying, they will learn and retain more information.