Bristle Bots: How to use a Design Challenge to engage learners

Fifth graders recently completed a fun and engaging design challenge. Students were only given a list of available materials and tools in which to create a ‘Bristle Bot’ made from parts of an electronic toothbrush.

The students worked in small teams, facilitating collaboration among the group. Students discussed ideas before building, reinforcing communication skills as they worked together on designing their bot. They took apart the toothbrushes, became familiar with the various parts, and then applied the engineering and electricity knowledge that they have been learning over the past month to create their ‘bot.’

Students then designed, tested, and modified their creations until they achieved their goal. “It was great to see them working through problems and constantly modifying their approach to the solution,” says Mrs. Kesler, a fifth grade teacher. “It added a touch of resiliency to the effort, as they worked through struggles to redesign their creations. There was no instant gratification; they had to work for it.”

The Design Challenge has very minimal direct teacher instruction. The teacher becomes the facilitator and guides students instead of providing step-by-step instructions. The project itself is highly engaging. “Some students are not risk takers,” says Mrs. Kesler. “So this is a safe place for them to try and explore without the fear of failure. On the other hand, it immediately grabs the attention of those who enjoy challenging work because it is open-ended.”

Does your school do something similar?

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