Engineering Design Process Lesson 3

This lesson may have been my most successful one yet in the Engineering Design Process series. After experiencing OBSERVE and IMAGINE, the next step what to create an opportunity, though music, for my first-graders to experience what it means to PLAN and prepare to create.

To experience this next step in the Engineering Design Process, we began by learning a new song: “I’ve Got a Car”. This fun, modern American folk song has many different applications, which we will explore for the next several lessons!

The best part of the song, at least for first graders, is adding the actions that go along with the B section:

Honk Honk (place hands on hips)

Rattle Rattle (shake hips/body)

Toot Toot (tap your nose with each hand)

Beep Beep (tap each ear with the opposite hand)

This song easily becomes a game to help children experience tempo; you repeat the song faster and faster, flying through the actions as quickly as possible until everyone is basically just slapping themselves in the face and can’t possibly keep up! The kids have a great time with this, believe me! Because it has a fairly limited range, this song can also easily be transposed to different pitch levels, which is helpful to keep the children from getting locked into one key. Without even drawing attention to it, you can give them an experience with range and transposition by starting at different pitches, which I did often as we learned and sang this piece.

Click HERE to view my complete lesson plan for Lesson 3: PLAN

Jerome Bruner, a famous educator and learning theorist, holds that whenever people learn something new, we learn it best by progressing through three stages: Enactive, Iconic, and Symbolic. At the first grade level, progressing to the Symbolic level (actual music notation, as pictured above) was not really necessary for this activity. But by beginning with the Enactive stage- singing and acting out the song I’ve Got a Car- and progressing to the Iconic stage- representing this song with visual icons- the students had a very impactful experience with the PLAN step!

Working together as a class, we selected icons for “Honk” “Rattle” “Toot” and “Beep.” This was a bit more complicated than I expected it to be, but it actually turned out to be a good learning experience. This was the assortment of shapes I gave the students to choose from, displayed on a PowerPoint:

A good icon embodies or looks like the thing it represents. After picking out random icons, the students discovered that they had a hard time connecting them with the words they were supposed to represent; they had unknowingly chosen symbols, which have no correlation to the thing the represent, rather than icons. We decided to pick shapes that looked like what the words sounded like, and tried again. Putting the icons in order, this is what we came up with:

Notice how the sharp points of “Honk Honk” and the wavy line of “Rattle Rattle,” etc, seem to embody the meaning or feel of those words? That is what makes icons effective. The first-graders practiced reading their icon map several times, singing (the pitches did not change here, only the words) and doing the actions while I pointed at each icon to help them follow along. It was important that they really follow what they saw, rather than just relying on memory, and that became clear as we went to the next step: PLAN for a new B section to this song by changing the order of the words and actions!

The first graders loved this idea. It was easy to slide the icons around in PowerPoint in real time to create a new B section, which looked like this:

Can you interpret the icons? This Icon Map reads as follows: “Beep Beep,” “Honk Honk,” “Rattle Rattle,” “Toot Toot.” The first graders impressed me with their ability to read and follow this map, singing the right words and actions to go along with their new creation. It wasn’t easy- even I made a few mistakes as I got used to the new arrangement- but they loved the challenge and threw themselves into the activity with complete focus.

At the student’s request, we created another map, another pattern to tackle:

This one is the ordinary pattern backwards, which made it very tricky to read and perform accurately! It took quite a few repetitions to get this right; I could see the wheels turning in their heads, and by watching them, it was clear they were really READING the icons they saw and responding appropriately, not just going off of memory (because once the order changed, the memory of how they learned the song was no longer helpful).

 Not only were the students able to PLAN a new design, they were able to interpret it as well! They met the objectives of this lesson completely. The lesson ended with a return to the Engineering Design Process Graphic, reminding them that this is just one step which connects to what came before it and prepares them for what will come after. Until next time!

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