"Tell me and I'll forget, teach me and I'll remember, involve me and I'll learn" ~ Benjamin Franklin
Only so much learning can be done at a desk with a pencil, sometimes students truly need to use their minds to solve a problem, allowing them to apply what they know in a creative and different way.
These 6th grade students were given a scenario; they were all mythical beings living in the magical land of Halloweentown, and their home was under attack. They were asked to find a solution and close the portal before the town was attacked by angry villagers from the human world. They read an article in the Halloweentown news that told rumors of mad scientists that could help, but that these mad scientists had gone into hiding, only leaving mathematical clues to their locations. The students needed to use their knowledge of exponential notation to decipher the clues, find the scientists, and save the town.
Students worked in teams made of Vampires, Werewolves, Giants, and Wizards; to solve the puzzles. The answers to these puzzles led them to the last group of students, the mad scientists. Together they came up with the solution by solving the final puzzle. They needed to make catapults to launch pumpkins at the portal, closing it.
With their challenge in front of them, students were given their materials and a planning sheet to design their catapults. Each group of students had access to: Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a spoon. They could use these however they liked to create their catapults.
Once we had created the machines, we took our pumpkins outside and worked together to launch our pumpkins a total of 20 meters in order to make it to the Halloweentown portal. The students were successful and saved the town from the villagers and their pitchforks.
This activity allowed the students to use the concepts we have been working on as a class, in a new and engaging way. It was a test of not only their academic knowledge but their awareness of their communication and social skills. In life we are faced with a series of problems, that we use what we have learned throughout our life along with our creativity to solve. Giving students an opportunity to play around with these problem solving skills allows them to experiment with their ideas, in a low stakes but highly engaging environment.