Return to Headlines

11-5-19 — Real-Life Question Sparks Learning Activity

Nov. 5, 2019 ~ Fourth-graders at Canyon Creek Elementary set out to solve the real-life problem of where will people park when the recently approved Friends of Lenexa Sports Complex is built just down the road from their school?

The parking dilemma became the class’ first complex project based learning activity.

“While attending a PBL Works conference, we learned that the best PBL projects are when they can be made authentic,” fourth-grade teacher Sara Hoffman said.

Hoffman and fellow teachers Betsy Prestridge and Cali Thompson devised a question to guide students through the project. “How can we, as engineers, design a parking structure to meet the needs of our community?”

“We centered the project around our science and English language arts standards with a real-world problem to solve,” Prestridge added. “Students could actually see the land we were talking about and empathize with potential neighborhood concerns.”

Criteria for the project included limiting light pollution and noise, making the structure environmentally friendly, and building it to withstand Kansas winds.

“By designing and building prototypes, students could put their research to the test,” Prestridge said. “They took on various engineering job roles within their team and shared their perspectives to plan, build, and rebuild based on the data from their trials.”

The fourth-graders researched landscape blueprints for the real sports complex and Lenexa City Council meeting minutes to understand what questions adults had about the Friends of Lenexa Sports Complex. Thompson said the students applied for one of four roles — sound engineer, electric engineer, landscape architect and civil engineer.

“Sound engineers had to limit sound to 55 decibels in their structure, so their job throughout the project was to learn about what sound engineers do, what decibels are, what can limit sound, and how they incorporate all of that into their parking structure,” Thompson said.

“We took the structures to a dark part of the classroom and looked at how light might affect neighbors if this was real,” Thompson added. “We downloaded a decibel-counting app and put a musical device in the middle of the structure. We compared the decibels inside and outside the parking structure to determine if our sound barriers worked. We had a squirt bottle and sprayed water to imitate a flood in their structure. After testing, each group took their notes and proceeded in the design process or went back to find a better solution.”

The finished prototypes were presented to representatives from the city of Lenexa, community members, district leaders, a civil engineer, engineer and landscape architect.

“The students were so excited to share their ideas and meet the real people who helped with their research,” Prestridge said. “The students were very professional and took ownership of their presentation by planning their speaking roles, choosing what to wear, and working as a strong team to be prepared for questions the panel might pose.”

Feedback is an important part of any design process.

“We really hit home the design process,” Hoffman said. “Even though the students were presenting final designs, in real life they might still need to go back and change things.”