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The Egg-Drop Experiment | Mission to Mars | Literacy Skills & Reciprocal Teaching


Project 3: The Egg-Drop Experiment:
A Hands-On Investigative Activity


Background on Investigative Activities

Student participation in hands-on investigative activities (or laboratory activities) that develop inquiry and intellectual skills is an essential component of meaningful instruction. Investigative activities give students an opportunity to appreciate the spirit of science and promote understanding of the nature of learning.

From a constructivist perspective, investigations can allow students to pursue learning autonomously, and offer a variety of multisensory experiences, though sometimes these activities fail to go beyond "cookbook" activities. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that investigative activities fall short of achieving the potential to enhance student learning with understanding. As a result, most teachers today have not fully incorporated investigative activities as a means of allowing students to solve problems and thereby construct knowledge of science.

Project Overview

The Classic "Egg-Drop" experiment has been a standard in science instruction for many years. Essentially, students are asked to construct some type of container that will keep a raw egg from cracking when dropped from ever-increasing elevations. But with some further thought, this activity can be both engaging and completely in accordance with the National Science Education Standards developed by the National Research Council in 1995.

Web Link
National Science Education Standards

With this activity, students will gain the ability to design a product (a container), evaluate the product, and communicate the process of design modification.

For a full discussion of the Egg-Drop Activity see pp. 162-164 of the National Science Education Standards.

 

The Problem


The Project


Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing

 

The Problem

The problem (or, more appropriately, the challenge) in this scenario is to drop an egg from a specified height (usually in increasing incremental steps from 1 story to 3 stories) and ensure that it remains unharmed.

The egg may be considered to be an analogical representation of some precious cargo, such as a human being, that ideally would not be harmed upon reentry into the atmosphere from space.

Cognitive Strategy
The use of analogies is one cognitive strategy.

For protection, the egg can be encased within a regular size quart container of milk or orange juice (original liquid removed). Any type of material may be used inside the container. Generally, parachute devices are usually discouraged initially but can be incorporated at the discretion of the instructor if desired.


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The Project

Students should be encouraged to experiment with a number of different designs for this task. The project assignment is to keep a record (field journal) of:

  • the various designs
  • rationales for the designs
  • any experiments performed subsequent to the actual Egg- Drop

In this manner, we are attempting to record the developmental process that takes place over a series of a couple of weeks as students devise designs and evaluate their effectiveness. As the students' hands-on experimentation develops, teachers must be conscious of instructional opportunities that will present themselves and warrant benchmark lessons. (A benchmark lesson is instruction that aims to raise the general level of subject matter knowledge of the entire class.) In the Egg-Drop project, benchmarks may include the interrelationships between free-fall, force, and gravity.

Evaluation of the field journals can be made at various points during the unit or the teacher can have groups present their initial findings via some type of presentation (demonstration, videotape, multimedia).

Assessment

Web Link
See abstract from Eric on Portfolio Assessment.


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The Theory in Practice

As opposed to "cookbook exercises" in which students follow prescribed procedures, effective laboratory and investigative activities can be designed to encourage opportunities for:

  • experimentation
  • prediction
  • independent interpretation

Laboratory activities can also foster learning and student enthusiasm when they are geared to students' needs and can give students the satisfaction of finding out that they can overcome challenges. Recent advances in science education suggest that experiments in laboratories should be written according to several criteria:

  1. An experiment should be structured so that it presents students with a puzzle and not with an illustration of what they already know.
  2. Experiments should be written with "carefully defined procedures" so that students in the class can carry them out.
  3. Experiments in science should also include topics for which current knowledge is incomplete or not understood even by scientists.
  4. Students should be required to prepare in advance, in their notebooks or journals, a plan for how to proceed with the experiments, rather than using manuals.
  5. Students should be required to write reports using a flexible format.

Motivation

Even with these criteria, there remain a number of challenges to investigative instruction in the middle school science classroom.

1. Clarifying the role of the investigation in developing inquiry skills and determining the value that the investigation has in developing an understanding of the subject content.

2. Students who do not yet understand the principles of the subject area will be at a disadvantage when they are supposed to observe and identify the intended phenomena of a particular investigation.

3. Investigative activities have historically been seen as auxiliary and as a dispensable aspect of the traditional classroom by teachers, curriculum designers, and policymakers.


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Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing

Searching

A number of different groups can be set up to search for initial ways of approaching this problem. Students will be confronted with some long held and resilient misconceptions concerning free-fall (for instance, that heavy objects fall to earth quicker/slower than lighter objects). By encouraging experimentation and communication of their results, students will quickly see the need to use mathematics in their approach to this problem.

Solving

Students will come to value the notion of a prototype as they take part in the design process, and their investment in the project should increase accordingly.

The "solving" of this project can be either a group or an individual accomplishment depending on how the instructor wishes the dynamics of the class to develop. This activity can become very competitive, with groups developing "secret" plans for the day of the egg-drop.

In any event, a record of students' investigative activities should be emphasized as the primary part of this activity. The actual egg-drop is a highly motivating public display of the research and design development that took place over the course of 2-3 weeks.


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Creating

Once again, the creation of a field journal documenting the evolution of the design process is the primary product in this activity. Metacognitive strategies are introduced by having students reflect on their own thinking. Research has shown that metacognition plays a vital and necessary component of life-long learning (see Wakefield, p. 426, thinking about your own thinking process).

Sharing

See Projects 1 and 2 for ideas concerning sharing. Here are some specific ones for this project:

  • Students can create a video on the design of their containers so that in the future, other students may be able to view the video and begin the process of adding to other students' design principles.
  • Students may wish to post their reports on a User list such as k12.ed.science in which their results can be reviewed and commented on by other students their own age.
  • School or local newspapers may be contacted for coverage of the actual egg-drop event. Having a student play a "reporter" is an effective way to document the activity as well. Imagine two students posing as television reporters covering the event and reporting back to the class or school on a closed-circuit television system if available.

Web Link
See this site for a real example of the Egg-Drop at a school's web site.

Web Link
Another example of the Egg-Drop Experiment at a grade school's site.

Learn more about the process of inquiry.


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