6th Grade STEM/Literature Experience

When author Elizabeth George Speare sat down to write her Newbery Award Winning book The Bronze Bow in the late 1950s, she knew she wanted to write a story that would connect with the class of teenagers she taught at her local parish’s Sunday School. Little did she know that her classic novel would be the inspiration for a STEM project at Saint Patrick Catholic School over half a century later!

As a culminating activity at the end of their Quarter 3 novel, 6th grade students were asked to use STEM as a force for good in the fictional city of Ketzah, over 2000 years ago to build a litter to help a scared young lady named Leah, the sister of the book’s protagonist, Daniel.  The learning experience, spearheaded by Mr. Christopher Chagnon and Mrs. Ashley Costanza, was developed last summer as a part of the Trustey Family STEM Teaching Fellowship through the University of Notre Dame’s Center for STEM Education.  

Over a 2 week span in their English, Math, and Religion classes, students were tasked with a specific job in their assigned groups completed a series of activities.  First, they researched the location of the novel, set in the Holy Land in the time of Jesus, identifying specific natural resources that may have been available in that particular biome. Locations in the book were found to be in the chaparral and desert biomes, and students quickly realized that the chaparral setting was abundant with vegetation that could help with construction.

Detailed plans for litters were sketched, with groups keeping in mind their budget of $100 for supplies.  Hot glue, popsicle sticks, and yarn representing mud, branches, and cordage were just some of the materials available for students to “purchase” to incorporate into their designs. Besides the budget and material constraints, groups had to ensure their prototype litter models did not weigh more than 100 grams while still being able to hold 1 kilogram for 3 minutes.  

As a way to evaluate their designs before testing, groups displayed their creations on a gallery walk, where their peers noted similarities and differences between the 14 different prototypes while calculating the value of each litter.  Value was measured as the mean of the weight and the cost. Since both of those totals ranged from 0-100, students hypothesized that both numbers would be lower. The smaller this average, the better the value of the litter by this standard. Students quickly noted that lighter litters cost the more than ones using heavier materials, each litter had a base platform, hot glue added considerably to the overall weight, and a rectangular prism shape fit the kilogram representing Leah the best. 

Testing day was an overwhelming success for all groups, with each litter withstanding the weight for the seemingly endless 3 minutes. Students diffused the stress of testing time by explaining and answer questions about their design process. The questions/answer session, led by students, was an impressive sight with thoughtful inquiries punctuating insightful presentations.  It was fun to see the different designs in action, along with the whimsical accoutrement added by the tween engineers.

Encouraged by the positive testing day and feedback from students, Mr. Chagnon and Mrs. Costanza are eager to adjust the project and implement it again next year.  Among the possible changes to the inaugural project? More limitations on budget and materials to make planning and implementation a bit more challenging, and a potential robotics/coding portion of the learning experience to revolutionize litter testing.  

The Bronze Bow inspired litters are currently on display in the case at the end of the Middle School Hall, off of the Art Connector.

At the end of this, the first year of the Saint Patrick Catholic School’s participation in the Trustey Family STEM Teaching Fellowship, the STEM Team of Mr. Chagnon, Mrs. Costanza, Mrs. Louise Schaeffler and Ms. Amber Seeley would like to thank the Saint Patrick community for all of their support and encouragement!