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Cardboard Experiment Teaches Grade 4 Students About Precision

Tanya Olander

What makes a structure strong? What is precision and why are accurate measurements important? These are some of the engineering challenges we asked our grade 4 students to explore.

Equipped with a single piece of cardboard, a ruler, and a box cutter, students in grade 4 recently discovered how small inaccuracies can have a large impact.

Students learn that collaborations are important and that a second pair of eyes can capture details they may have missed.  

After a thorough introduction on how to create slot construction and learning about the importance of exact and careful measurements, students get to work on their assignment - creating a stand that will support multiple books. Did we mention that no glue or tape is allowed?!

Techniques vary as students measure the length and position of the slots in the cardboard which they've cut into two panels. Once their stands are assembled, testing begins and students witness just how much their accuracy impacts the stability of their structures.

A snug fit is important for a stable structure. 

When a structure gives way, sending a stack of books tumbling across the workbench, students squeal as ES Stem Coach, Kattina Rabdau-Fox, asks them what they noticed happening. A closer look at the structure reveals that building along the horizontal grain resulted in the cardboard buckling. 

Holding her hands over her ears a fourth-grader looks on as Ms. Rabdau-Fox stacks another book onto the growing pile.

Just moments later, the incredulous wide-eyed glee of a student whose structure holds more than 20 books fills the maker space. 

And through another engaging hands-on exercise, students are taking away valuable learning and insights while having great fun in the process.

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