Pilot - U1L01 - Intro to Problem Solving

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Started with lesson 1 yesterday. Students responded very well to the design challenge. I did find that this was a commonly used design challenge and that a few of the students had already completed it in years past. It was still very effective in working through the design/problem solving process.

The planning sheet is critical and the the teaching tip to hold building materials until initial designs and plans are submitted is a great suggestion. Students will definitely skip the planning phase if they are given the materials ahead of time. Next time, I will have some more specific criteria for what is an acceptable design. Some students tried to get away with drawing a rectangle with no description on their paper. Some encouragement and strong suggestion was required.

One suggestion for consideration is placing this lesson after the problem solving process lesson in L2. The activity guide for this lesson could be formatted to more closely match the problem solving process so that students could put the process into action after having learned it.

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Hi @krisaturner

Loving that you are sharing so much helpful information in your posts! I think you point about planning guidelines sounds like a great one. Do you have ideas of what criteria you might ask students to have in their plans?

I think its interesting you want to flip lesson 1 and 2. Definitely worth considering. I’m interested to hear what other teachers experience as they go through these lessons.

To give you a peak inside the curriculum writers brains, here are a couple of the reasons we wrote them in this order:

  1. We want the first day of class to be really fun and team building. Boats seem way more fun than posters!
  2. Any student with any background can jump in and participate in the aluminium foil boats lesson. So it doesn’t advantage certain students. This is very important for diversity.
  3. We try to give students the opportunity to try it themselves before introducing them to the “correct” way of doing it. So although they may not succeed in creating a good boat or follow the perfect problem solving process it will still be valuable to them later in the unit as they can think back on this activity as they learn more.

Thanks again for sharing!


I am planning to begin lesson 1 next week. How long did it take you to complete the lesson from beginning to finished with writing the reflections? At first I thought the same about flipping lesson 1 with 2, but after Dani mentioned this is a good team building activity. Also, how many people did you have in each group? Thanks, Patty

I’m teaching this course to 6th graderss (around 22 of them) in a suburban school with a 70% minority population and an 80%+ free and reduced lunch population.

This post will be a blend of U1L01 and U1L02.

We did U1L01 lesson the day before break. I know that sounds crazy but it actually worked out great. I used it as part of an “Hour of Code” day we planned and I did it in a block of time after lunch and before an assembly. It took about an hour to complete.

When I started to introduce the lesson I heard several students say that they had already done this in 4th grade. I told them that it was no big deal and that they should pair up with other kids in the group who hadn’t done it before. What I found, though, during the lesson is that their past experience didn’t really give them an advantage. The group that “won” had never done the challenge.

I saw a correlation between the groups who really used the planning sheet and the groups who were the most successful in building a design that could hold 30-40 pennies. Some groups just wanted to put down the minimum and get to the “try” stage. Some also rushed through the “reflect” stage and ended up with a second design that only held a few more pennies than the first (however, this is still a successful redesign).

All of these observations were helpful to refer back to when we went on the the second lesson and talked about the design process. It helped that we had a shared experience to use as a reference when talking about each step of the design cycle and when they were trying to brainstorm strategies for the posters. They were also more thoughtful about the process when they filled out the sheet for U1L02. I thought that at some point a student would comment on how we were doing these lessons in a computer science class but we weren’t using computers, but so far no one has said a thing about that.

I compiled the 4 posters from Lesson 2 into one, took a picture of it and posted it in our Google Classroom as a reference.

What really surprised me about doing the posters was that the students came up with the most strategies for “Reflect” (and they are great strategies!). This will be a very helpful reference moving forward.


It took my 6th graders about an hour but we could have easily used another 20 minutes or so.

The lesson took the entire 59 minute period. There were 3 people in each group.

Also, I used foil sheets that are pre-cut (like in foodservice kitchens) and they were the perfect size.


Thanks for sharing @renee_coley! The things you shared are really interesting reflections on the lesson. I wonder if other teachers that do the lesson will notice similar things?

Same here. Precut foil sheets I think are the way to go. Much less hassle and prep.

I also did Lesson 1 this week. I have 7th graders for one semester so it was a totally new group for me. I had these students for about three days before I did this lesson. I had groups of 2 or 3 depending on my class size. Any bigger and I could see students just becoming spectators.

I could see flipping 1 & 2 or at least meshing them together. I also started lesson 2 and looking through the problem solving strategies in retrospect to the boat building was a little tedious for the kids. Lesson 2 is actually taking me almost three class periods (mind you, I only have them for about 30 minutes because I have to devote part of each class period to keyboarding). Students are a little confused by looking back and applying the problem solving strategy. I had to really guide the aluminum boat part of the activity guide. We’ll be finishing up with the last two sections today. I plan to collect the activity guide as a formative assessment.

I made a copy of the activity guide for lesson 2 in Google Docs and created an assignment on Google Classroom for it. Students are completing it and handing it in electronically. Since this is new to many of them, that might be slowing down the completion of the lesson too.

I struggled for days trying to figure out how to get water into my class and now to keep my 8th graders for splashing around. I gave up and created an in class lesson that involved correcting. This lesson went better than I had expected with some groups really creating good instructions. For their assessment, I had them rate themselves from 5-1 on how well the new group was able to recreate the shapes in the box from their original instructions. If they did not get a 5, then I had the groups correct their instructions on a new sheet and try again. 5 rated groups could do another one, or if they outsmarted the system, I could draw the shapes for them and have them write the instructions.

Link 1: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JnWdinSnv-giyS1D_C2Nk_s2-S0ong3c3sNoW03WgE4/edit?usp=sharing
Link 2: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DFS4zxoo7VfMcx5Fg-HJ2Fx3jKOgd9j_dL3DfEihYP8/edit?usp=sharing


Sorry here are the links for my worksheets.
Link 1: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JnWdinSnv-giyS1D_C2Nk_s2-S0ong3c3sNoW03WgE4/edit?usp=sharing
Link 2: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DFS4zxoo7VfMcx5Fg-HJ2Fx3jKOgd9j_dL3DfEihYP8/edit?usp=sharing

Hey Frank,

Thanks a bunch for sharing both your thoughts on this lesson and your resources. We’ve been hearing from a lot of piloters that having water next to computers caused at least some hesitation so whether it’s putting the water in the hallway or making more significant alterations it’s good to know how different teachers are approaching this challenge. Happy to hear your replacement lesson went well and hoping to hear more about your students progress through the unit.


Hey Elizabeth,

Thanks for letting us know your thoughts on those lessons. I’ll be curious to hear on future posts how using digital versions of the activity guides works. This is an idea a number of teachers have mentioned and it’d be good to know which lessons it does or doesn’t make sense for. If you’re easily able to post those resources here I (and I’m sure other teachers) would love to see them.


Thanks for the suggestion with precut foil sheets. I went out and purchased them this weekend. My classes are 43 minutes (and that’s if they arrive on time). Hopefully they can at least try the first boat on the first day and then begin their plan for the 2nd try the next day. I’m going to try the 3 in a group too.

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I will begin U1L1 on Wednesday with one of my 7th grade classes. My class sizes are between 20 - 26 with 4-7 students with IEP’s, BIP’s, or 504’s in each class. The school is a low income school with 65% FARM students. Many do not have a computer or Internet access at home due to income or living in a rural area. Many families at my school are homeless or don’t have running water. So needless to say, they come to school carrying a lot of weight on their back. The periods run 43 minutes, but I only see the class every other day. I am choosing one class to begin this pilot since this class has only 20 students and the least amount of behavior issues. I would like to begin the other 7th grade classes in February. Reading the posts that others experienced teaching this lesson has helped me plan for Wednesday. Thanks! ~~Patty

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It’s great to hear how the forum is helping you plan and a little bit about your classroom. Wishing you all the best on your first lesson and hope to hear how it goes.


My class has 36 students, including 11 SDC students of varying temprament and ability levels. There are 2 aides who are very good. On Tuesday and Wednesday (January 11 and 12) the class completed Lesson 1 on building an aluminum boat. I emphasized that the activity was meant to introduce students to the process of coming up with a design, and improving it. It was not a contest to see who could float the most pennies. They were also responsible for completing the worksheet. Write-ups varied from excellent to poor. I dealt with that as part of Lesson 2.

The class was silent while I explained the activity. I had the instructions on the projector screen. Everyone participated. There were no arguments at any table and students did not wander around the room. There were no major spills. All the tables built rafts and floated them. They all tried to improve their designs. Cleanup went well, with only one student complaining about having to clean up something at her table that she “didn’t do”.

Change needed: Students in junior high generally answer the only the first question of a multi-part question. If there is a follow-up question, they ignore it. Please give each question its own bullet point, and less space per question.

Several groups did not follow the directions to use only 5x5 pieces of foil, even though I gave each table a ruler. I did not prepare the foil in advance on purpose. I believe that teachers do too much for the students to save time – things they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. On their second attempt, I pointed out that the foil needed to be 5x5, and most tables complied. This skewed the results, but it was more important that they follow directions.

For my part, I did not remind students to set the worksheets aside, and some got wet. I had them use notebook paper instead, which was fine.

Hey Sandra,

Thanks for the really specific feedback that’s very helpful. Glad that even with a couple unexpected twists it seems the lesson went well. I’m hoping this activity serves as a good shared experience to drive conversation in lesson 2.

Unfortunately, I could not begin the pilot last Wednesday due to drills that took place during that class period. Then on Friday, many students were absent or pulled out for testing and I had was pulled for a 504 meeting. No matter what, I will complete lesson 1 on Tuesday & Thursday this week. ~~Patty