Day 1 of my engineering class, we start with what I call a “progressive design challenge.”
Students start with 10 straws and 10 paper clips each, and have 5 minutes to make the tallest freestanding structure.
After the first round, I pair students up and they pool their resources (both material and intellectual) and try again.
After the pairs, I had them reflect on process – how did they make decisions about what to do? What features from Round 1 made it into Round 2? What features didn’t? Why?
Then we combined 3 pairs to make groups of 6, pooled resources, and tried again.
At the end of Round 3, I asked them reflect on all 3 rounds and create a diagram that represents their overall process. Instructions were vague, so one group reflected more on their process, specifically how their ideas evolved:
While the other 2 groups focused more on the evolution of the structure itself. This group explained which features made it into subsequent rounds and why.