Author: sgriffin (page 2 of 2)

Grade 3 Load-bearing structure

Grade 3’s introduction to the Design Lab has been a challenge to design a load-bearing structure. They must plan and develop a structure using limited materials (and time) that supports as many steel ball bearings as possible.

As different homerooms have done the activity, Jerry and I have had to adjust some of the parameters because the students have been good at finding loopholes in the problem – making the challenge too easy in some cases. For example, we had to stop students from making “water towers” (by attaching popsicle sticks  to the sides of the cup like legs) because this was too strong and easy to make. After a couple of these adjustments, the challenge feels just right, and students are having to find more creative solutions.

Design Lab Load-bearing Tower

Grade 3 Space & Place

Grade 3 are currently working on their Space & Place unit, which focuses on the following NGSS standards:

5-ESS1.1 – Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth.

5-ESS1.2 – Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

As part of the unit, students have been working on a sequence of activities in the Design Lab, including:

  • Constructing scale models of planets in the solar system
  • Constructing a scale model of the distance between planets in the solar system
  • Design Challenge: Mars landing module

To Scale: The Solar System”

Design Challenge: Mars Landing Module

Students examined the “Curiosity” Mars rover mission and explored some of the factors affecting the landing of the rover. Their design challenge is to create their own version of the landing module. Their craft needs to safely land a rover on the surface of Mars – in this case the “rover” is an egg that needs to land (without breaking) in the “drop zone” 2 storeys below – aided by their module design.


  • Students must work to a budget, meaning they need to be intentional about the materials they use
  • The egg must not break during the final test
  • The module must land in the “drop zone”

“7 Minutes of Terror: Landing the Mars Rover”


G3 Space and Place

Grade 4: Systems Unit

Grade 4 have begun their Systems unit, exploring:

  • What makes a system?
  • How are systems interdependent?
  • How can systems change?

This post contains the resources for the Grade 4 Systems eBook.

Grade 4 Systems eBook:


  • ePub (for editing in Book Creator & iBooks)
  • PDF (for view only)

Part 1

Edison intro activities


Swift Playgrounds

Part 2


System map & infographic examples:

Final video example

Precious Plastic

Why is plastic waste a problem?

It seems like every day there is a new story on the global devastation of plastic pollution. Sadly, the more we learn, the worse things seem to be. Here are some of the reasons plastic is threatening ecosystems all over the world:


  • Plastic is everywhere and seemingly used in everything, including packaging, most textiles (clothes, fabric, carpet etc), cosmetics (microbeads).
  • 50% of all the plastic we use is thrown away after a single use. This includes items such as water bottles, grocery bags, straws etc.
  • Currently, only 5% of the plastic we use is reclaimed/recycled.
  • 10 metric tonnes of plastic pollution wash into the Pacific Ocean every day – from L.A. alone.
  • In the last 10 years humans have produced more plastic than all previous time put together.
  • Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
  • Our clothing contains a large amount of plastic which also contributes huge amounts of landfill and pollution as it breaks down. People now keep clothes for a far shorter amount of time than ever before, choosing to throw them away when they become bored, instead of repairing clothes that become worn out.
  • Plastic never goes away, it just degrades into smaller and smaller pieces which end up in waterways (including drinking water), habitats all over the planet, food chains, and, humans. The current estimate for ocean plastic of 5 trillion particles is believed to be a “major underestimation”.
  • We still don’t really know the direct risk of plastic contamination to humans.
  • In spite of all this, the production of plastic is actually increasing.
What can we do?

Reduce – Reuse – Recycle (+Repair!)

The best way we can have an impact on plastic pollution is to not use the plastic in the first place (reduce). We can do this by taking greater responsibility for our purchases and habits:

  • Use reusable water bottles, lunch containers, coffee cups, shopping bags, drinking straws
  • Be prepared to not buy something if there is an excessive use of plastic packaging.
  • Be more considerate about our purchases such as clothing – how long will you use the item for before it is thrown away?
  • Spread knowledge about the danger of plastic pollution
  • Get involved – follow #preciousplastic, #plasticpollution and many other social media tags and profiles for details about sustainability, clean up activities

When we collect and prepare our plastics for recycling, we become more aware of our consumption. We start to pay attention to the types of plastics we are using and rethink some of those purchases – perhaps switching brands or even not buying the item any more. These are some added benefits of recycling our plastics.

Recycling our plastic waste into items like bowls, lamp shades and furniture is a wonderful way to repurpose plastic into something usable and learn more about the impacts – but this only treats the symptom of the problem, not the cause, which is too much consumption of plastic!

What is Precious Plastic?

Precious Plastic is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online, for free.

In early 2018, ISB was able to set up our own plastic recycling station using the plans and expertise from Precious Plastic – we even had one of their representatives, Mathias, spend a week with us to teach us some techniques.

How does it work?

The easiest plastics to recycle are #2, #5 and #6. This is because they tolerate a range of different of heating and manipulation techniques without producing noxious fumes. In the future, other plastics may also be recycled at ISB but these would require specialised equipment.

Step 1: Collection

There are currently collection bins located around the school, including the design labs, different hallways and classrooms. Please ensure that the plastic items are labeled with the correct number and are clean.

The most common examples of plastics we can recycle are:

  • Milk bottles
  • Bottle caps
  • Shampoo & detergent bottles
  • Take away containers
  • Lots of other containers – always check the number!
Step 2: Sorting & shredding

The items are taken to the Fab Lab, sorted into similar colours and shredded, then the shredded plastic goes into tubs ready to be used in different design projects. One great thing about shredding the plastic is that it takes up much less space – so a full tub of plastic containers can be shredded down to around 1/20th the volume.

Step 3: Making

There are several techniques we can apply in the Fab Lab to create designs from shredded plastic:

Oven melting

We can put different plastics in the oven where it is melted and can be moulded into different forms such as bowls, jewellery, etc.


An extruder is a bit like a sausage maker! Shredded plastic goes in, then it is heated and forced out as a molten thread. It takes some practice, but the technique can be used to make bowls, baskets, hats, lamp shades, etc.


This machine allows melted plastic to be casted into different forms by pouring the plastic into a mold. Using this technique we can produce furniture, phone cases, key chains, statues, etc.

What can we make with recycled plastic waste?

There are lots of different things we can make using our Precious Plastics equipment in the Fab Lab:

  • Decorative bowls (not suitable for food)
  • Plant holders
  • Lampshades
  • Jewelry & fashion
  • Keychains
  • Coasters & tiles
  • Furniture

To get inspired, follow #preciousplastic (and variations) on social media




Microplastic pollution in oceans is far worse than feared, say scientists

Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends

22 Facts About Plastic Pollution (And 10 Things We Can Do About It)


Grade 3: Lunchbox design & 3D printing

Over the last few weeks, several Grade 3 classes designed lunch box concepts for their classmates as part of their Culture Unit. Students had to empathise with each other in order to understand their specific needs, working together to provide testing and feedback throughout the process. Students calculated the surface area and developed a scale plan which they referenced during their time in the Design Lab creating prototypes. Each class then voted on their favourite concept and each of the three winning designs was 3D modelled and printed by Mr Sam or Mr Jerry.

This week we will be visiting the Grade 3 classes to award them with their models and demonstrate the process of modelling and printing the lunchbox concepts. Well done to all of the involved students and we look forward to future design & 3D printing endeavours!

How to model a lunchbox in TinkerCad

Watch the lunchbox being printed



Edison robots: intro activities

Grade 4 are practising using Edison robots, both as an engaging way to learn about coding and robotics as well as helping prepare for their upcoming unit on “Systems”.

We are running through a sequence of self-directed intro activities to help students understand:

  1. The different features of the robots, the various inputs (barcode, sound, light and digital upload via cable)
  2. The various commands & outputs (movement, sound, line tracking, stopping/avoiding lines & physical barriers)
  3. Some of the basic things Edison can do (driving, navigating, racing, tracing, sumo wrestling(!))

Shortly, we will upload some student videos, also attached are some activity sheets to give you an idea of how the learning material is structured.



While these activities are probably best suited to Grades 2-5, the learning sequence continues into more complex activities that would likely be applicable to higher grades. If you would like to know more, please get in touch!


Edison Robots

The Edison robot is a powerful, engaging tool for teaching Elementary students computational thinking and computer programming in a hands-on way.

With built-in sensors as well as lights, sounds and autonomous behaviour capabilities, Edison makes robotics education accessible to students of all ages.

Edison can:

  • Respond to light and sound
  • Follow lines and avoid obstacles
  • Communicate with other Edison robots
  • Connect to other Edison robots and LEGO bricks
  • And much more!

Edison robots can be programmed in different ways to suit students’ age/ability:

  • Printable barcodes that the robot reads as it drives over (simple)
  • “Ed Blocks” drag and drop block graphic language coding that students perform on iPad (intermediate)
  • “EdWare” hybrid coding app (block or script) (UES)
  • “EdPy” line based script coding using Python (advanced)

We can work with you and your team to plan some discrete or integrated robotics activities using Edison robots. Currently we have around 30 robots based in the ES Design Lab that we can play with in either the lab or in classrooms.




Tinkercad is a free, online 3D design and 3D printing app suitable for students, teachers and professional designers. Tinkercad is easy to use; supported by excellent tutorials, an active online community and inspiring blog.



“Illumunated Octopus” by CaptObvious

To get started, it is worth setting up a free Autodesk account – this will allow you access to a wide range of resources and apps.

Tinkercad resources:

 What is Tinkercad?

Grade 5: Biomimicry Claw

Some of the Grade 5 classes are investigating how to create a “grabbing claw” that mimics a bird of prey’s talons. This activity comes at the end of their Biomimicry Unit which saw students explore the many ways scientists and designers use nature as inspiration to solve problems. Below are some photos of 5JP students creating their grabbing claw designs.

You can view the lesson plan here. The claw design activity comes from PBS LearningMedia.


Grade 4: Balloon Powered Car Challenge

Hello Grade 4!

Your Design Challenge for today is to create a car that travels the quickest/furthest distance possible using balloon power.


  • You will work in a team of 3 people. Make a name for your team!
    • One person per team is responsible for taking pictures and videos
    • One person per team is responsible for sketching the design concepts
    • One person per team is responsible for recording all times and distances travelled by your car
  • Make a labeled sketch of how you think your car design will look and work
    • Your sketch must be approved by your teacher before you begin making your car
    • You should update your sketch each time you make a major change to your design
  • Use the materials supplied in the basket. You may use other materials available in your classroom (check with your teacher)
  • Test your car’s speed and distance on the space marked out in your classroom
    • Use the iPad timer and record your times/distances on the sheet provided
  • Each team is allowed one visit to either Mr. Jerry, Mr. Geoff or Mr. Sam for technical support

We will learn about problem solving, teamwork, and the design process as well as potential & kinetic energy, friction and resistance, and measurement.

Good luck,

Mr. Sam and Mr. Jerry


Plastic bottle balloon powered car design

Sketch for balloon powered car design

Balloon car with CD wheels


Plastic bottle car design:


Cardboard car design:

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