Thursday, 30 March 2017

Disaster DIY

After reading a book about a natural disaster, students teamed up to help their novel's
main character survive his or her ordeal.

Your town has just been devastated by a massive earthquake. The phone lines are dead, there’s no running water and supplies are running out fast. All you have is a few household objects and your ingenuity. How do you make it out alive?

Our Grade 7 classes tackled this tough question through a week-long integration project from March 6-10. After reading one of three books by Canadian YA novelist Eric Walters about a natural disaster - an earthquake, a tsunami or a flood - students teamed up to help their novel’s main character survive his or her ordeal.

To be successful, students had to draw on knowledge from four core subjects:

  • Science: Students invented a survival device that helped the characters purify drinking water, keep warm and dry or signal for help.

  • Math: Students used mathematical reasoning to predict how long the device will help the character survive until assistance arrives. (One group created a giant air bubble and did detailed calculations to determine how long that oxygen would last!)

  • Social Studies: Students needed to understand the specific characteristics of the area where the disaster took place, and to understand how humans acquire, manage and use natural resources based on their environment..

  • English: Students produced an oral or written explanation of how their survival device works, as well as a series of journal entries written from the perspective of their novel’s main character.

Students used a design thinking approach throughout this process: understanding what the end user needs, making sense of their research and resources and generating ideas and prototypes. By using design thinking, students learn that the process of trial and error is a good way to solve problems.


To work collaboratively students need space. Our learning community classrooms are not
only spacious but allow lots of flexibility.


What Did Students Invent?


Students’ creativity shone through in the wonderful use they made of their available resources. Some examples of devices include:

  • A water purifier made from a plastic bottle, coffee filters, curtains, sticks and a plastic bag
  • A giant “Help” sign made from glow sticks
  • A canopied raft made from debris and a tarp


How Did Our Expanded Building Support This Integrated Project?


To work collaboratively students need space: ample room to meet in small groups, spread out their materials and build their prototypes. Our learning community rooms fit the bill perfectly: they’re not only spacious, but their flexible furnishings allowed students to configure the room in the way that worked best for them. Our teachers also had plenty of space to circulate through the room and support teams as needed during work periods.

Our performance theatre also played a key role in the project. Its drop-down screen allowed the Grade 7s to view multimedia materials and go through short lessons as a large group. When it was time to present their projects, the theatre provided an ideal venue for this activity.


When it was time for Grade 7 students to present their finished prototypes, our
performance theatre provided an ideal venue.


Student Feedback


What did students like most about this project? Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“I liked that the whole week was connected to one main idea. I was really proud of our final product, because it worked and we had a clear view to why we made it.”

“I enjoyed using different ideas to help my character and put myself in the character's shoes.”

“I enjoyed going to different rooms and learning about survival if you were caught in an earthquake.”

“I’m proud of the final product because even though we disagreed at the beginning, we came together and worked through it, resulting in an awesome prototype.”

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