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Second Graders Build Mascots for NASA in STEAM Unit

In the spirit of scientists and engineers our boys in the second grade have been active in a STEAM unit designed to help NASA.

First as scientists, the boys explored objects and substances, making observations and asking questions that get at the essence of what makes these items unique. They learned to use scientific measurement tools to measure properties and to record their data.

Next, the boys were engineers tasked with designing and building mascots for NASA that will keep astronauts company during (hypothetical) extended space travel. The mascot must have a mass of exactly 173 grams to ensure optimal balance of the spacecraft during launch.

Boys were given an assortment of materials. They worked with triple-bean balances to measure and record the mass of each component, employing mathematical reasoning to add, subtract, and combine components to meet the mass specification while using their aesthetic sense to optimize their mascot’s ability to warm hearts in deep space.

This open-ended problem invites a variety of different solutions and  strategies. Here are some examples of the ways the boys articulated their thinking:

"The mass of each thing adds up to 141 grams, so we will have to use more than one of each object."

"Our clay is 110 grams. A washer is about 30 grams. If we use clay and two washers we'll be close to the  goal."

"Tooth picks are very light, but they are also very stiff and strong. I can use a lot of them to make strong legs that will support my mascot."

"Before we started to design our mascot, we put all of the materials on the scale and added pieces until the total mass was 173 grams. We know that if we use all of those things, our mascot will be 173 grams total."

This unit is a great example of the interdisciplinary nature of STEAM projects, and the ways they engage our boys curiosity and imagination to meet challenges.  

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