Building Lab: Tunnels
One challenge of tunnel engineering is to be precise to ensure that teams building from each end of the tunnel come together in the middle. These activity shows students the importance of communicating precisely, and then an activity on measuring accurately.
The Peanut-Butter Sandwich Activity
Their first challenge is to give the instructions for a simple task, such as making a peanut-butter sandwich. Have one person, such as the teacher, stand in front of the class with the materials to make a peanut-butter sandwich. Have your students, one at a time, give instructions on how to make the sandwich, but make sure you follow their instructions exactly. For example, if they say, "Put the peanut-butter on the bread," then you take the jar of peanut butter and place it on the loaf of bread. Though this hilarious activity, your students will get better at giving precise instructions.
The Building Activity
Break your students into pairs and give each pair an identical set of a dozen or so blocks of different shapes and colors. Have the pair sit back to back and have one in each pair build something with the blocks.
Once the first student has built something, he next has to describe to his partner how to make the identical project without either partner seeing what the other is doing. Once they are done, they can look at the projects and compare them and, if they are not identical, identify where the communication broke down and what they could do in the future to prevent this error. Have them switch roles and do it again.
The Measurement Activity
For this next activity, you will need two plain white paper plates for each student. Students again pair up and sit back to back. Each student marks a circle of the size of his choice (under 3 inches) on their first paper plate at any place he wishes. Give them some time afterwards to consider how to accurately explain how to describe where his circle, or the entrance to the tunnel is, so that he can be able to help his partner make an identical sized circle in the identical place on his second paper plate. Provide rulers and have them make measurements so that they can effectively give accurate descriptions to their partners.
Once they are finished with their preparations, have the students give their partners descriptions and measurements and have the partners make as accurately as they can an identical circle on their second (blank) paper plates. Are the circles identical and in an identical place? Have them switch roles and do the activity again.
If your students are having a difficult time, suggest to them that they make some way of dividing the paper plates (such as dividing the paper plates with straight lines to make 8 identical sections and shade one of the sections in so that they each have a starting point) so that they have the ability to give more descriptions. Do their tunnel circles meet up?