As we finished our force and motion unit, I wanted students to build something. An egg drop seemed a natural fit, but I was bothered by the lack of real-world application. Who would ever drop an egg off a balcony? Then it occurred to me – the egg represents fragile items. So, I created a design and build with this in mind.
Before I go into detail about the learning activities, let me type some background. I participated in an egg drop as a student. I don’t remember what year, I just remember being confused. As was often the case for me in elementary and middle school, I felt like everyone else had some background knowledge that I did not. I never learned right and left – I didn’t even know that was something that had value until 3rd grade when it became quite apparent I did not know which was which. (Into adulthood I struggled with directions because of this). The egg drop challenge was no exception. I had no idea what I should already know in order to keep this egg safe. And that is all I remember of the experience.
Fast forward to grad school and my evolving thoughts on teaching. I strongly believe content should have context. I spend a lot of time designing learning activities with context, or real-world application in mind. I often look at a traditional lab or activity and dismiss it because I do not see the relevance or context. Unfortunately, that is where I was with the egg drop. I had no sense of its relevance and, therefore, no intent of ever bringing that activity into my classroom regardless of how “fun” it might be. This was a MISTAKE! I needed to look at it from a different perspective. I think my prior experience had made me so uncomfortable with the activity that it was easy for me to dismiss it as irrelevant. When I forced myself to take a deeper look, I realized the egg drop is not only applicable to real-world scenarios, but is important RIGHT NOW. With this new understanding, I moved forward connecting our egg drop to medical supply drops. I was also very purposeful in making this connection with my students so they would know what they were asked to do had relevance and was worthy of their time. 🙂
First, we watched a short clip of a drone dropping medical supplies into Rwanda. This provided us an opportunity to talk about why supplies need to be air dropped into certain locations rather than transported by truck. I enjoy making connections like this – science and geography, science and social studies, etc. We also discussed what kinds of supplies might be in the package that was dropped. This led us to a quick conversation about distribution of future vaccines. I was intentional in showing how this seemingly random experiment (egg drop) had real-world, right now applicability. I ended this class with a suggestion for students to begin collecting materials for their protection package, preferably out of the recycling bin.
For our next class, I challenged students to make a landing pad for an egg out of 10 pieces of notebook or printer paper and tape. The egg could not be modified in any way – it had to simply be dropped onto the landing pad. Students worked in small groups through breakout rooms in Zoom. At least one person in the group needed to have the materials needed (10 pieces of paper, tape, and an egg). The other members of the group helped provide design ideas. In about 15 minutes, students designed, built, and tested their landing pads. Then, each of the groups returned to the main group and we discussed our models and results. Some of the groups were excited to show their landing pads in action to the larger group!
We followed up our own exploration time with a Mythbusters segment. In this episode, Adam and Jamie test the plausibility of jumping off a 20-foot building into a full dumpster and being able to survive and run away – a scene in many action movies. As in all Mythbusters, students see the design process, the science integration, and the testing. In the end, the students had some ideas about why certain materials make better choices than others. With this new information, I challenged students to apply this information about landing pads (from their exploration and the video) to their package protection system for the egg drop.
Logistics for an egg drop are different during distance learning. With this in mind, I decided to have students drop their eggs packages at home on their own time, rather than watch each other synchronously on Zoom. I wanted students to be able to watch each others’ drops, too. So, I introduced and used Flipgrid. Using this website, students recorded their egg drop trials and showed us the results on camera. Everyone in the class can watch every recording.
*One teacher note – because this is distance learning, be sure to emphasize the importance of cleaning up after the egg drop. I suggested students put an empty garbage bag flat on the ground where they anticipated the package would land, making clean up easier. This will help you avoid angry parent emails :)*
In addition to the Flipgrid recordings, students wrote in their science journals about their designs, the materials they used and a diagram, how the build went, and data from their trials. I set parameters for the size of the package, but I did not limit the kinds of materials they could use, the number of trials, or use of a parachute – those were all up to the students to decide.
When I let the students leave Zoom to begin building and testing, one student came back a few times with questions. About 20 minutes later, he came back on Zoom and asked me to watch his Flipgrid. He was so excited. He told me this was the most fun he had had in a long time! I watched the Flipgrid and was impressed. He did four trials and narrated each one. His tone of voice clearly showed enthusiasm and engagement. The best part, though, was that he wanted to watch the Flipgrid with me. So, I shared my screen and we watched together. This memory is a keeper.
On Monday, I will have the students watch some of the Flipgrids. Already, though, these recordings have had hundreds of views from classmates – HUNDREDS! I have not even asked them to watch each other’s videos and they are doing it. Amazing! We will also have some reflection time and a chance to connect their experiments to the medical supply drops introduced at the beginning.
Distance learning certainly presents challenges. However, it also presents opportunities. We are challenged to look at our lessons in a new way and we have the opportunity to create engagement and connection beyond the classroom. This is an exciting time, embrace it!