The Egg Drop Project
Can you imagine going to school each day, dressed as a scientist, designing and constructing a capsule to be tested in front of hundreds of onlookers while participating in a variety of relevant activities to support your journey?
This is what students do when they participate in the exciting learning journey The Egg Drop Project. It’s a four week authentic learning initiative that introduces students to design technology, basic physics, life skills and a learning experience they’ll never forget.
I took my place at the front of the classroom and adopted a stern, commanding facade, like an aerospace administrator at NASA embarking on one of history’s greatest missions. With a pointer tucked under my arm I unveiled the challenge.
‘Over the next four weeks, we will be immersed in a mission known as The Egg Drop Project.’
‘You will design and construct a capsule, with a partner to be determined, to protect a raw egg (or shall we refer to it as an eggstronaut) from a four storey platform onto the the hard pavement.’
‘Each week you will receive specific instructions and knowledge to support you in achieving this goal.’
‘You will NOT be addressed as students or children during these project times. Instead, you WILL be addressed as designers, engineers or scientists. You will require a lab coat, or any oversized white dress shirt, and a clip board.’
Yes, sir! They shouted enthusiastically – and the Egg Drop Project was officially launched.
Students received instruction that their capsules could not be any larger than 40 cm X 40 cm. They required a hatch (door) and a latch (lock mechanism) to secure the hatch. These design elements nurtured creative problem solving beyond just getting any old shoe box, stuffing it with tissue and calling it a scientific capsule.
Finally, the capsule cannot have a parachute. This encourages an understanding of drag, air flow, shock absorption and recoil. Over the coming weeks students were immersed in a scientific climate where research, experiments, collaborating, design activated learning thrived.
1st Week: Egg Awareness
Integrating subjects becomes an easy task when implementing authentic learning initiatives. It’s important that students have a clear understanding of the fragility of an egg and understand the incredible natural structure that it is. For getting up close and personal there is no activity more engaging than students adopting a baby egg for four days. That’s right, parenting a raw egg. Students were provided Baby Egg Adoption Papers that included all the relevant information a person requires in filling out formal documents. If you want to observe ownership for a learning activity this really ramps up an introduction.
Students were required to name and decorate their ‘babies’ with faces and outfits and provide bassinets. They were responsible for caring for their egg child at all free times such as recess, before school and after school. During rotary classes the ‘egglings’ could be left in a safe space in the homeroom. When breakage occurred students were required to follow safe, sanitary and discreet clean up procedures. Once that had been completed an Accident Form and Gone But Not Forgotten certificates needed to be completed that provided detailed information on the accident, witnesses and a paragraph on how this accident may have been avoided.
In the case of malicious behaviour or neglect then a court case may take place. Whenever there was an opportunity for a learning moment, we capitalized on it. Judge, bailiff, class juries, defence lawyers, prosecutors, witnesses and even appeals were introduced during these trials.
It was amazing to see the lengths that students went to play out their parenting roles. They read bedtime stories, bathed, walked, and slept near their eggs. Students even organized babysitting clubs, complete with business cards. The grade fives generally admitted they enjoyed their ‘adopt an egg baby’ experience but confessed that parenting is a really tough job.
The week also introduced themed readings such as eggs in mythology while students learned about an egg’s nutritional value, egg laying creatures and parts of an egg.
2nd Week: Design & Blueprints
Before designing their capsules, it was important for students to understand some basic concepts about gravity, air resistance and recoil and completed simple experiments. They dropped marbles of varying sizes, comparing their descents and recorded their findings. Students were introduced to air resistance (drag) as they crumpled paper of similar size into different shapes and compared their drop speeds as they fell to the floor. This was also a great time to explore the effects of turbulence.
Real-life examples of blueprints were shared while students also learned to distinguish between aerial and cross section views.
The student designers brainstormed, consulted, measured and researched as they created their first drafts of their capsules illustrating a cross-section of its interior. Students understood that their capsule’s construction had to match the measurements of their blueprint as close as possible. That’s what happens in the real world!
Once the first drafts were drawn up a teacher conference was scheduled, recommendations and adjustments were made; then a final presentation copy was created. The blueprints illustrated all materials utilized, measurements of layers, depths, sizes and parts. Their capsules and logos of their engineering partnerships also adorned the blueprints. With their designs completed, the young engineers were ready for that eagerly awaited construction stage.
3rd Week: Capsule Construction
Finally the day had come to create those dream machines. Reams of materials and tools flowed into the classroom. Cotton balls, newspaper, styrofoam, balsam wood, glue guns, plastic bottles, mesh, ribbon, velcro to name a few were brought from home to start construction. Students were encouraged to experiment with materials at home but capsule, latch and hatch had to be all created at school.
The hum of partnerships in deep, focused discussion characterized this stage of the project as young engineers worked enthusiastically on their capsules. By the end of this week the capsules were completed and their exteriors were painted. Capsules brandishing names such as Egg Saver, Cushionator, Gravity Defier and The Ultimate Dragster were ready for presentation mode.
Over the years I’ve also arranged field trips to poultry farms and/or invited reptile presenters into our classroom to compliment our studies on egg laying creatures.
4th Week: Eggsibition and Egg Drop Day
With their capsules completed, the classroom was converted into a display room which we affectionately called ‘The Eggsibition Hall’. The room featured the young scientists’ capsules and also displayed a variety of other relevant Egg Drop Project assignments.
Photographs of all project stages were displayed throughout the classroom. Bulletin boards displayed students’ work samples and a book shelf displayed spiral bound fantasy egg stories written by students.
Always a highlight was a table displaying the egg babies and bassinets, complete with Adoption Agency sign, adoption papers and a display of photographs depicting the egg parents engaged in a special activity with their baby eggs. Pictures with babies in strollers walking with friends in the park, attending sports events, group family photos, even visits to the dentist were shared.
Teachers reserved times for their classes to visit this exhibition. Many classes volunteered to make predictions, as they were provided with ‘Make It or Break It’ sheets. This exercise always ramped up the critical questioning and enthusiasm for the ‘Drop’ event featured the following day.
Dressed in their lab coats, the students stood proudly beside their partners behind tables that featured their capsules. Their latches were open so all visitors could view the interiors of their gravity defying containers and predict how well the capsules would hold up on the four storey descent.
Capsule blueprints hung at the table’s front providing even more insight into the workings of the capsules. Each year other classes were invited, parents, community members, student teachers, administrators and occasionally media to the Eggsibition.
After several hundred visitors the students were feeling comfortable about presentations and were using terms such as velocity, gravity, exterior, interior, turbulence and drag like they had been doing it for years.
The Egg Drop
At 11:00 am the 2001 Space Odyssey theme music played and the announcer asked for the eight hundred students and community spectators to be quiet. It was time for the ‘Procession of the Scientists’. With the pageantry of a Nobel Prize ceremony, a solemn line of lab coated, clipboard carrying student scientists followed two leaders holding placards labelled YUCK and YEH and entered the Drop Zone.
The announcer shared, ‘Today each student is already a winner for successfully reaching this stage of the project. Today is one experiment, students will record data while testing their capsules’.
Egg Drop Day programmes had been distributed to the audience listing capsule names, their engineers, their place in the ‘drop’ order and background information about the project. Although for many years the capsules were dropped from the school’s roof, scaffolding or a window, we managed to secure the services of a city hydro truck and gondola many times and that always added extra drama.
The audience watched as the official ‘Dropper’ held the first capsule in his outstretched arms. The capsule’s creators crouched and ready to learn the outcome of the four storey descent. Fresh, raw eggs decorated in a variety of eggstronaout characters had been randomly placed into their capsules. Taking a cue from the announcer, the whole audience started the count down,
5…4…3…2…1…DROP! The capsule was released and down it came, hitting the pavement with a resounding BANG! The crowd clapped in delight as they watched the designers carry their inventions to the “eggsamining” table to receive the official verdict.
The time of that descent was 1.06 seconds it was announced. As the capsules fell each scientist recorded the time of descent, drew its flight path, estimated an impact meter and noted whether it was a YUCK or YEH. The examiner made it official. It was a YUCK! The placards were now used as rally rousers and the audience joined in as the scientists pushed their placard upwards: 3…2…1… YUCK!
Even though the ceremony had terrific entertainment value, a sense of real science emanated from the activity. Whether it’s was a YUCK or YEH learning was the winner on Egg Drop Day.
Steve Revington is an educational speaker, author and consultant from London, Ontario, Canada. Steve’s thirty-two year teaching career was devoted to pioneering Authentic Learning. He has designed, implemented and promoted a wide variety of authentic initiatives, most notably The Egg Drop Project. He’s written articles, produced video and hosts Google’s number one website on Authentic Learning. He received a TV Ontario Teacher’s Award for his innovative practices (1994), an Associate Teachers Award of Excellence from The University of Western Ontario (2013) and was selected as one of fifty finalists for the inaugural Global Teacher Prize (2014). Steve also received Canada’s highest teaching honour, receiving the Prime Minister’s Award of Teaching Excellence from PM Justin Trudeau (2016).