Developing Essential Life Skills Through Science
by Sharon Livingston
Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, states that focus and self control, perspective taking, communication, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self directed engaged learning are the seven essential life skills needed by every child. Helping children view themselves as problem solvers or critical thinkers is one of ten strategies that Dombro, Jablon and Stetson describe in Powerful Interactions to extend children’s learning.
Science topics and projects can motivate students to develop these essential life skills. As part of an inventions unit in grade 3/4, students engage in the engineering design cycle of ask, imagine, create, and improve to design a wind car. Students tested their cars with a box fan in the hall outside the science room. An older student mentioned to me that he made suggestions to two students to improve their cars when he saw them working as he was on his way to another class. Later they let him know his suggestions worked. He shared he still had his wind car and loved that project. His pride in helping them was evident, was a wonderful self confidence builder, and also a great indicator of his own essential life skills at work.
Science projects can help students understand big ideas. A study of Structures and Forces culminated with a Hurricane House build. Students designed a house with an area greater than 1,500 cubic cm, and one door, and two windows. Students were motivated to use math volume formulas and were focused in determining the total volume of their house. Mr Ken, our facilities director, supplied the gas leaf blower as a hurricane force wind. Students stood on the base of their house as the hurricane got closer and the hurricane category climbed. As we were going out to test this one student said, “This is so exciting. I can’t wait to test my house.” Motivation! As part of the project, students researched various hurricanes which hit land in the last 100 years. After our simulated hurricanes, we analyzed the damage to the houses and the reason it occurred. Students were able to realize the impact of their design ideas. The designer of a pear shaped house spoke of her interior supports and the importance of how the wind could move around it and her thoughtful placement of windows and doors. One student studied a hurricane in which many had been killed because of inferior housing stock. Seeing the difference in damage to our houses helped her understand exactly what was meant by the term inferior housing stock and the impact of design and cost.
During an egg drop in grades 3/4 children design a container for a raw egg to survive a drop from the second floor roof. Students experiment with designs and come to their own conclusions about weight, speed, crushability of substances, and how things fall. They ask, imagine, plan, create, improve, and communicate with joy and motivation. A perfect life lesson!