Friday, 17 April 2015

The Hurricane: Teaching In the Eye of the Storm

I have to say this was one of the most unsuspected and unplanned learning engagement I have done with my students, but was definitely was one of the most fun ones. Last week, my students were watching a few videos about buildings, structures and environmental factors architects needed to consider when planning and building in various locations around the world. One of the videos featured Hurricane Sandy and showed the effects it had on various buildings. One of my kiddos asked, “What makes a building ‘hurricane proof’? What makes a building not get destroyed in a hurricane?” Of course, when a student has an inquiry, we usually go about investigating so this was just another one of those days. At that point it was made known, the hurricane would be here in 3 days.

First the students broke into teams of 5. I am still amazed at how well my 9-year-olds can make groups. Ever since our design thinking and inventions unit at the start of the year, they see the value in creating diverse groups. WIthout teacher support, they make sure there is varying abilities, boys and girls, and unique perspectives. They choose not to work with their best friends and understand that by making these decisions they can make the best teams that can solve any problems.

Once the teams were established, they started to do their research. They brainstormed questions that would be necessary for the investigation such as what happens during a hurricane, what materials are best for structures in hurricanes, etc. and documented them in a shared Google Doc. From there, they began their research. Each student in the group was responsible for different questions as well as keeping a list of references they used to solve their answers. Some groups even colour coded who did what to help them self-monitor if they were each contributing equally to the gathering of research notes.

From there, they pulled the keywords out from their research that would need to be included in their design before creating blueprints that they drew by hand. One group even drew their building from 5 perspectives so they could have a well thought out plan. When they had finished their sketch, they had to meet with me briefly to explain some of their design decisions in the sketch. I was amazed by the thought and detail they went into for their structures. One group thought about being inspired by the Gherkin with a rounded building so the wind would curve around it, Another group had the building on stilts in case there was flooding. The final group created a basement for safety with reinforced walls in the basement with lining to prevent water from seeping in. There were inclined planes for water to run away from the building, multiple exits for if there was something blocking it and a variety of different materials used that they felt would be best to minimize damage.

Then they got to the building process. The students were allowed to use any materials they wanted to construct their buildings. We used recycled materials primarily as well as other resources that were found around the classroom. I loved watching them as they talked through their disagreements in designs, working collaboratively and inclusive of all group members.

Finally, it was hurricane day. I walked into class still unsure of how it was going to play out and no real plan on how to make it happen but sometimes creativity strikes and you roll with it. We had a video with sound effects on the projector as a visual and hurricane sirens as a warning for the members of the community. It was time to see if these buildings would hold. Every student played a role in creating the hurricane. Some students were the storm chasers who used iPods to video document what was happening and finding different angles to capture the storm. Other students were the fierce winds with large sheets of cardboard or boards used to create the wind. Finally, we had students who were the rainstorm who would toss water at the buildings. Hurricane Mac was intense. As the hurricane progressed, debris (in the form of pencil crayons) began to be thrown about and hitting the buildings.

When the storm had passed, we looked at our buildings to see how they had stood up against the storm. Luckily they were all pretty much intact. We had a lot of discussion about why some were better than others, how some materials had been more durable than others, etc. First the teams debriefed individually and then they shared with the whole class. To wrap it up, the students created a written report about the experience from beginning to end including all of their reflections, photographs and experiences.

It was the absolute best way to begin our Monday morning (even with the bit of mess we created). The experience brought about so many questions and inquiries. The students worked collaboratively to investigate and create an experience that was memorable. I honestly think they are still shocked of  how we did the simulation in the end. But the smiles on their faces was completely worth every second.

Sometimes teaching can’t be all planned out. Sometimes you just have to jump into the storm, get a little bit messy and be ready for whatever is thrown your way.

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