Top image: Dandelion seeds floating in the wind (photo by blickpixel via Pixabay)

Setting the Stage

Prior Skills and Knowledge

Maple keys
Source: Wiegots via Pixabay

To successfully participate in this Design & Build, students should be able to use basic cutting tools and fasteners for construction. They should also have a basic understanding of the function of various parts of a plant, in particular the role of seeds. It is highly recommended that students conduct the Inquiry Seed Dispersal prior to doing this Design & Build challenge.

Context

The purpose of seeds is to bring the offspring of plants to new places when they can have space to grow. Many types of plants have specially adapted seeds that are able to travel away from the parent plant by making use of the wind. These wind-borne seeds are often capable of travelling large distances.

In this Design & Build challenge, students will work collaboratively to design and build models of seeds that use moving air to travel as far as possible.

Acorns on an oak tree
Source: 12019 via Pixabay

This design and build could begin from:

  • questions and/or comments that arise after showing students videos about how seeds travel.
  • exploring photos of seeds as they move. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “How do you think this type of seed moves? Why do you think so?”
    • “Do all plants use the same method to move their seeds? Why do you think this is?
  • reading books such as Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move, A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds, or Who Will Plant a Tree? Discuss using questions such as:
    • “How did the seeds in this book get from place to place?”
    • “Would the wind be a good way to move this type of seed? Why do you think this?”
    • “What kinds of seeds do people eat? Does eating seeds help them move? Why do you think this?”

Cover of A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards
Source: Open Library

Cover of Who Will Plant a Tree? by Jerry Pallotta
Source: Open Library

Design Criteria

As a class, students brainstorm criteria that their prototype seeds must meet. Educators may choose to add other criteria that are curriculum-specific, such as using joiners/fasteners, measuring, using specific materials, etc.

Design criteria examples:

  • The seed must travel through the air as far as possible
  • The seed cannot be thrown, only dropped
  • The seed can only be moved using moving air
  • Use only the materials provided

Materials and Preparation (Click to Expand)

Materials:

  • Pencils
  • New or recycled craft materials such as construction paper, craft foam, tissue paper Styrofoam, aluminum foil, string, yarn, fabric, ribbon, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, buttons, etc.
  • New or recycled containers such as paper plates, Styrofoam plates or bowls, etc.
  • Construction tools such as scissors, rulers, tape, glue, etc.
  • Measuring tools such as rulers, metre sticks, measuring tapes and/or stopwatch, etc.
  • Recording tools such as pencils, erasers, paper, science notebooks, cameras, handheld electronic devices, etc.
  • Table fan to provide moving air

Preparation:

  • Collect an assortment of recycled and new materials that students will use to construct the prototype seeds. The materials list above is only a suggested list.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternatively, organize an assortment of materials to be provided.
  • Set up a station where the table fan will be.

What To Do

Students develop Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype seed that can move as far as possible using only moving air.

Students will follow the steps of the Design & Build process:

  • identify the problem to be solved/need to be met
  • brainstorm criteria that the prototype must meet
  • share their questions and ideas for a solution to the problem/need
  • discuss the pros and cons of each in order to select a potential solution to be tested
  • visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations
  • identify the tasks or key steps involved in developing the solution (the design plan)
  • make decisions about tools and materials that will be needed
  • build/develop the design idea based on their sketches and design plan
  • test their prototypes based on the design criteria
  • modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary
  • reflect on their results and identify things that could be done to improve their prototypes

Sample data recording template by Let's Talk Science
Download [.doc] [.pdf]

Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Work Collaboratively –  students work collaboratively to complete a task and evaluate their group processes throughout the Design & Build process
  • Generate Ideas –  students use idea generation strategies, such as brainstorming, to identify possible solutions as well as make decisions about the pros and cons of each solution
  • Communicate –  students communicate their thinking and learning in words and/or sketches and/or photos and/or videos, etc. (e.g.,  in design plans that include 2D design sketches, in outlines of key design steps/tasks, in lists of required materials/equipment/tools)
  • Work Safely –  students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while building/creating prototypes
  • Reflect – students reflect on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes

Sample design template by Let's Talk Science
Download [.doc] [.pdf]

Co-constructing Learning

Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing

Educator Interactions:
Responding, Challenging

Students identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.

  • What physical features would your seed need to have?”
  • “How will you test your seed?”

Students brainstorm and record criteria for the prototype seed.

  • “How do you want your seed to move?”
  • “What seeds have you seen in nature that could be inspiration for your design?”
  • How can we test our prototypes so that it is fair for everyone?”

Students visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations.

  • “Why do engineers label all of the parts of their design sketches?”
  • “How are you going to represent each part of the seed in the design sketch?”

Students make observations and decisions about the available tools and materials.

  • “What types of material will help your seed to fly far?
  • “Can you make the shape that you want from that material? How?”
  • “What tools will you need to create the seed you want?”

Students build/develop and test the design idea based on their sketches and design plan (create the “prototype”).

  • “Which of the design criteria does your prototype meet? Which ones does it not yet meet? Why do you think this happened?”
  • “How far did your prototype seed travel? How did you measure this?”
  • “Did your prototype go as far as you thought it would? Why or why not?”

Students modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.

  • “What problems did you have when you re-tested your prototype?”
  • “What changes in your prototype might improve your results?”
  • “How would it change your design if you wanted it to go even farther?”
  • “How would it change your design if the seed moved in water instead of air?”

Students reflect on the results of their testing and identify things that could be done differently in the future.

  • “What materials worked best? What materials did not work as well?”
  • “What challenges did your team encounter in working collaboratively to complete the challenge?”
  • “How challenging is it to design a model seed that travels by wind?”

Cross-Curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g. Why do seeds need to travel?).
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g. talk about ways in which seeds are transported and how humans may interfere with this)
  • Brainstorm and work collaboratively to come up with many ways for their seed to be transported

Mathematical Thinking

  • Take multiple tests/measurements of the distance the prototype travels before and after modifications and record these as data in a chart
  • Calculate an average distance travelled by the seed model before and after modifications have been made
  • Record other measurements based on the model and/or the performance of the models (e.g., mass, length and width, height of flight, time aloft, surface area)
  • Perform data set analysis based on multiple tests of the model’s flight distance travelled (e.g., range, mean, medium and mode)
  • Compare all the models that the class has produced, then order the distance results of all the models the students create and display results in a chart

Visual Arts

  • Sketch, represent, model their travelling seed prototypes.
    Examples for the classroom:
    • develop the design for the prototype in an online drawing program
    • create a picture-based algorithm to code directions on how to build the final model

Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Take the students outside and have them test their seed prototypes using real wind. How does this testing compare to using the fan?
  • Have students try dropping the seed from a higher place, such as the top of playground equipment. How far do the seeds travel now?
  • Students could repeat the Design & Build challenge, only this time create a seed that is transported by water.
  • Students could repeat the Design & Build challenge, only this time create a seed that is transported by sticking on to clothing, like the seeds from a burdock plant.

Cattails at a pond
Source: JamesDeMers, Pixabay

Burdock seeds
Source: Arcaion, Pixabay