Here in Winnetka, we have an amazing endowment called the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation. It encourages teachers to push beyond the ‘regular’ and ‘dream bigger!’ Teachers write proposals for projects that they would like to explore with their students.
This is how our television studio was kickstarted fifteen years ago. Last year I applied for a grant to explore Buckminster Fuller with my students. I’ve always been fascinated with his work around geodesic domes, but I knew very little about him otherwise. As part of my proposal, I laid out my plans to have students explore his work and life.
What I found was that there are very few if any, resources written at an elementary level about his life and work. I ended up finding a half a dozen documentaries and books about him and his work, but none worked to share with my students. So, I pieced together bits and parts of what I found online and introduced the man and his work to them.
My fourth graders had the ‘deepest’ dive into his work. After our introduction, I had the students attempt to build a dome out of newspaper tubes rolled up tightly. I found several different tutorials on ‘how to’ to this. Having never done this myself, I was pretty anxious about attempting it during IDEA Lab, especially with parent helpers. In a word, it was a failure. We coded our long and short tubes with tape, but the ‘hub’ where the struts came together was less than ideal. After nearly an hour of attempts with three different classes, we abandoned the project because the tubes were just not strong enough. While I am a big believer in learning from mistakes and especially failure, I knew I needed to give the kids a chance to experience success.
I immediately began researching PVC domes. I saw lots and lots of different kits available. The one that was both reasonably priced and looked simple enough for nine and ten-year-olds to build was created by Zip Tie Domes. I was very eager to have the kids experience success. I ordered it online and in just a few days the kit arrived. After opening the two boxes, I found easily identifiable parts and very clear instructions. I was ready for the kids!
The kids were excited! We broke down the failure from the week before and discussed what we learned from it.
“Newspaper tubes are not rigid enough to build a solid dome.”
“We needed some sort of better system for taping the struts together. We each did it differently which did not hold it together well.”
“Some kind of ‘connector’ would be very good to help us hold it all together better.”
When they saw the PVC pipes and hubs, they couldn’t wait to get started.
Per the instructions, we began by laying out a perimeter and connecting to the hubs. It took the kids a while to figure out how the zip ties worked, but soon they were pros. Mistakes were easy to fix with a cable cutter. Soon the first layer was ready to be lifted. The next two classes went on to completely finish the construction. They needed ladders to reach the upper levels and having several adults to help ‘persuade’ the pipes into the hubs was very helpful. I have three fourth grade classes and it took every bit of the three hours we had to successfully complete the project.
They have LOVED having it in our library. In fact, the whole school has enjoyed reading in it.