Keep At It!
To infer meaning, students must understand the author’s purpose. In the story, The Inventor's Secret, understanding what it means to “Keep at it” like Edison and Ford “kept at it”, requires students to experience “keeping at it” as they go through their own invention process. Therefore, this activity contextualizes the meaning of “keep at it”, enabling students to understand the author’s purpose at a deeper level.
In this lesson, students design, build and test model race cars made from simple materials (lifesaver-shaped candies, plastic drinking straws, popsicle sticks, index cards, tape). They measure the changes in distance and speed traveled by the addition of weight or revision of design features. Students also practice the steps of the engineering design process by brainstorming, planning, building, testing, and improving their "mint-mobiles."
Note: This lesson is part of our product The Inventor's Secret: The Study of Two Inventors Who Changed the World.
Making the Inventor's Log Top Tab Foldable®
Before you begin the Mint Car Challenge, set a time for students to make their Inventor's Log Foldable®.
You will need different colored copy paper if possible. If not, white will also work. Cut the sheets of copy paper in half and place them with copies of the cover of the Inventor's Log on a table. I tell my students to take one of each color (I provided six different colors) along with the cover. Then, walk the students through how to cut each piece, using the cutting guide on the cover. The directions included in the unit are easy to follow. Older students may be able to follow them on their own.
Introducing the Innovation Process
Follow the lesson steps to introduce the Innovation Process. Start by watching the National Science Foundation's video, The Science of Innovation. Use the video viewing questions found in the Mint Mobile Challenge PowerPoint to help focus your students' viewing and stimulate discussion about the process of innovation. I gave my students a copy of the questions to take notes and stopped the video at a few places for them to share their notes.
After viewing the video, students are ready to label the tabs of their Inventor's Log Foldable®. Go through the step by step directions in the unit for labeling the tabs. They connect the video to the book, The Inventor's Secret.
Start Your Engines! Designing the First Mint Mobile Model
I followed the lesson steps for the Mint Mobile Challenge but added some of the following for classroom management.
- Because of the nature of my 4th graders this year, I put students in groups of two and three. Mostly pairs.
- I did not set up the ramp ahead of time to discourage testing while making their first model.
- After students made their first model, I had them name it. I wrote the name of their cars on index cars along with their names and placed it on a shelf, creating "parking lots". I told them that when they finish, they needed to clean up and "park" their Mint Mobile in its spot.
- I gave them a time limit. After about 20 minutes, I announced they had 20 more minutes to complete their Mint Mobile.
- I limited the mints to six. I had extra mints that I handed out for eating while they designed their models.
- I did not limit the other materials.
- I had students test their models, one group at a time, during an independent work time. Other students were busy working on something else while I pulled on group at a time to test their car and record the time and distance. I had two helper students time and measure the distance. I set up the ramp under my Smartboard, so we could easily record the results on the results chart.
- When you set up the ramp, test it with a Hot Wheel car first. I had two students create the ramp and test it.
- Be sure you have a piece of tape to indicate the starting line and the ending line. The ending line is where you will stop timing. You will measure the distance where the car actually stops.
After the Initial Test!
After all students tested their Mint Mobiles and the results were recorded in the chart, I passed back their Inventor's Log Foldable® and their Mint Mobiles. Under the Test tab, I had them draw a sketch of the Mint Mobile and record their test results. Together, as a class, we looked at the results. Which car was fastest? Which went the straightest? Which went the furthest? Could a car have gone further if it were straighter? I had students whose cars produced good results in these categories share their design features and explain why they thought the car did well.
Then, I reminded the students that innovators get inspiration from each other and maybe the designs will give them ideas for improving their own models.
I asked students to complete this sentence in their Inventor's Log Foldable®: We plan to improve our Mint Mobile by ________________________.
The Final Design
Before starting their final design, I reminded my students of Henry Ford. I asked, "Do you think that with each innovation, Henry Ford built onto the previous model or did he make a whole new model?" Of course, they knew he designed a new car, using what he learned from the previous model, and with that I gave them the option of either making a whole new model or revising the old. (I had more mints).
This time, students could test and retest as they built their final design. Once they had it to where they were satisfied, they parked it in the parking lot for the final test. I followed the same procedure for the final test as I did the first test.
Debrief and Reflect
We finished our challenge by looking at the results. Everyone was happy because even if their Mint Mobile wasn't the fastest or furthest, it still was an improvement on their previous model. We filled in the last two tabs of the Inventor's Log Foldable®. Under Inspire, I asked students to write about who they inspired and/or who inspired them. Under the Reflect Tab, I asked students to answer What design feature worked? What they would do differently? and What did they learn about the Innovation process? How was the process you went through similar to Henry Ford's process?
My student LOVED this STEM challenge and I hope yours do, too.
Do you want to use the Innovator's Log Top Tab Foldable WITHOUT purchasing this unit?
Would you like to try the Mint Mobile Challenge?
The Innovator's Log Foldable can be used with any STEM activity. We have created a product called Developing the Mindset of an Engineer, which provides everything you need to make the Innovator's Log and do the Mint Mobile Challenge with your students.