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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.
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
Science Education Standards developed by the National
Research Council in 1995.
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.
Modeling the Process:
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.
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.
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
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).
See abstract from Eric on Portfolio Assessment.
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
- 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:
- An experiment should be structured so that it
presents students with a puzzle and not with an
illustration of what they already know.
- Experiments should be written with "carefully defined
procedures" so that students in the class can carry them
- Experiments in science should also include topics for
which current knowledge is incomplete or not understood
even by scientists.
- 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.
- Students should be required to write reports using a
Even with these criteria, there remain a number of
challenges to investigative instruction in the middle school
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
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
3. Investigative activities have historically been seen
as auxiliary and as a dispensable aspect of the traditional
classroom by teachers, curriculum designers, and
Modeling the Process:
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.
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.
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).
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.
See this site for a real example of the Egg-Drop at a school's web site.
Another example of the Egg-Drop Experiment at a grade school's site.
Learn more about the process of