Tag Archives: engagement

A Good Dam Lesson

Wanted to throw up some thoughts and photos on the end of a pretty good dam lesson (hah) that I led this past week.  Briefly: it was built on the back of a unit about the interaction between water and landforms, which used stream tables (pictured) to do experiments about how water flow, slope, etc. change patterns of erosion and deposition.  Much of the unit was focused on the process of scientific investigation: asking questions, making predictions, running experiments, collecting and analyzing data, using that data to write a conclusion in which we also change our ideas about the mechanisms behind phenomena, and speculate about further experiments.


This particular lesson took the unit in a new direction: kids got to create and imagine, and also got to learn about the design process.  They had a prescribed amount of certain materials (Popsicle sticks, straws, toothpicks) with which to build a dam in order to protect a tiny fictional town from flooding.  The lesson progressed from a class discussion about dams (including analysis of a picture of a dam on the Skagit river and discussion of the design features of that dam) to group-work on designing dams, to actually testing them in class last Friday.

The kids were SUPER into testing the dams, and as we tested them one-by-one, I made sure to ask 2 students who hadn’t been part of the dam in question’s design team what they noticed about the design (which resulted in lots of good vocabulary use) before the test, and ask 2 students who had been part of the team what they’d change, after the test.  All in all it was a very engaging lesson which clearly resulted in solid learning on the part of the students involved.

Coming out of this week, one of the main challenges I’ve set for myself is to be much more conscious about differentiation of instruction and assessment – to be much more intentional and explicit about these issues in my lesson planning.  In this particular lesson, this mainly manifested in me making sure to check in with as many students as possible about how the lesson was going for them – specifically, giving as many students as possible to answer my questions about the dam designs.  I feel pretty confident that I managed it with this lesson – I’m sure that the format of the lesson, with everyone gathered around and commenting excitedly about how the water was moving through the stream table, really helped some of my “focus students” stay engaged, and checking in with them throughout resulted in a strong impression on my part that they were getting the learning targets for the lesson (namely, parts of the design process and important design elements of dams, specifically).