Applying STEM: The Brain Safety Challenge
Lesson Objective: Design a football helmet to prevent brain injury
Grades 6-8 / Science / Engineering

Thought starters

  1. How does Ms. Comer tailor the constraints of the challenge to her students' abilities?
  2. What are the benefits of having students test their designs in front of the class?
  3. How are students encouraged to develop engineering skills while applying content knowledge?
11 Comments
Super excited to find this lesson as I brainstorm ways to revamp my Potential/Kinetic Energy Unit for the upcoming school year. This design challenge will be perfect! THANK YOU
Recommended (1)
Hi all. Great STEM project-based learning opportunity! Can any of you tell me which materials you provided to your teams? Also, did you set any constraints for materials? One thing I like to teach my students is that engineers work within financial constraints, so they don't get an unlimited materials budget from their company! So perhaps, the students get x inches of masking tape, x number of rubber bands, x inches of bubble wrap, etc. Did any of you do this? Or just give the kids a bag of materials and let them go with it? If one group uses more materials than another group, it won't necessarily be a fair test.
Recommended (0)
Awesome Lab...looking forward to doing this with 7th grade next week Thank you!
Recommended (1)
I am curious what materials you used to teach about concussions and how they are related to sports? I am wanting to use this in my 8th grade health classes in our safety unit.
Recommended (0)
I enjoyed this lesson. Watching you facilitate this lesson has really inspired me!
Recommended (0)

Transcripts

  • STEM LESSON IDEAS
    BRAIN INJURY

    VO
    00:01:31 This teaching moment is made possible by Chase.
    00:01:38 [Stem Lesson Ideas]
    STUDENT [sync]
    00:01:41 At first,

    STEM LESSON IDEAS
    BRAIN INJURY

    VO
    00:01:31 This teaching moment is made possible by Chase.
    00:01:38 [Stem Lesson Ideas]
    STUDENT [sync]
    00:01:41 At first, [unintell] here, but now I’m thinking of putting them on the top with tape.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:01:46 So, what did you do to build your design? You need to write that down before you can test it.
    BOY [sync]
    00:01:49 There’s no cracks on them, so we can know that he will be safe with no concussion.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:01:54 My name is Channa Comer and I’m a sixth grade science teacher at Baychester Middle School in the Bronx.

    02:02:00 This current unit that we’re doing is a neuroscience unit. And we’re studying the nervous system with a particular focus on the brain and its functions.

    00:02:11 It actually began with a study of concussion and looking at concussion as it relates to sports injury. And then from there, we went into the design challenge. So, it’s an engineering based lesson where students are given a challenge and they have to come up with a solution to the challenge as a team.

    00:02:27 This particular challenge is to design a football helmet that will prevent brain injury. They’re using an egg as a model for the brain. And so the idea is that they would use this model to design a helmet that would keep the brain safe, i.e. the egg from cracking.

    00:02:42 [The Football Helmet Project]
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:02:45 What is step one of the design process? Step one. Brandon M.
    BRANDON [sync]
    00:02:52 Complete the brainstorm.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:02:53 Right. So, yesterday we brainstormed and what was step two? What do we do next? Brian.
    BRIAN [sync]
    00:03:00 We drew a picture.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    Yes. We drew a picture of what our design is going to look like. So, we’re going to-
    CHANNA COMER
    00:03:04 There are many different models of the engineering process and this is a very simple version of it that’s really accessible for students at this age level. And it basically goes through the steps that engineers and scientists use to do their work.

    00:03:17 So, they start off with thinking about what it is that they’re doing, brainstorming aspects of it. They’re drawing their designs just like an engineer would draw up a design for a new product.

    00:03:27 They’re building a- what’s basically a prototype of their design. They’re testing it. They make modifications. They rebuild it and then they have final testing of it.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:03:35 So, you all have your drawings in front of you from- that you did yesterday. And the next step is to take the materials, which are in the bag next to you, and build. You’re going to get 15 minutes to build your design.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:03:46 You don’t have to use a lot of expensive equipment or materials. Just everyday items. So, I recycle and reuse everything that I can. So, there’s cardboard boxes, pipe cleaners, cotton balls. Just small things that I’ve used in other lessons or things that I’ve accumulated.

    00:04:02 And the students just get a bag filled with all these various items and they can decide for themselves what they think will be appropriate.
    BOY [sync]
    00:04:08 We’re going to stretch it out so it can fit inside the helmet. And we’re going to put it inside so-
    BOY WITH CREW CUT [sync]
    So when it falls it’ll just protect it.
    BOY [sync]
    00:04:15 Yeah. It’ll protect the- the skull.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:04:17 For this particular design challenge I’m using the model of an egg to represent the brain. The skull is represented by the shell of the egg.
    00:04:25 [Skull: Shell of Egg]
    CHANNA COMER
    00:04:26 The yolk represents the brain.
    00:04:28 [Brain: Egg Yolk]
    CHANNA COMER
    00:04:28 And the white of the egg represents the fluid that surrounds the brain.
    00:04:31 [Cerebral Fluid: Egg White]
    CHANNA COMER
    00:04:32 So, it’s a good model to show students the fragility of the brain, but also just the structure and how it works.

    00:04:38 I actually prepared the eggs. Just left them raw in their holders, but I glued them into the container. That helps, also, with a little bit of stability. I drew faces on the eggs. I found that the students needed to have it a little bit personified so that they could really make the connection that the egg is a person.
    GIRL [sync]
    00:04:58 It should be this big, but-
    BRIAN [sync]
    No, we should cut it.
    GIRL [sync]
    -we can’t completely cover the face.
    BRIAN [sync]
    So, the way we could do it is we could cut it, like, right here.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:05:05 It also gave them a sense of direction for their helmets, knowing that this is the top and the helmet goes on top of the head, as opposed to wrapping the egg in a blanket.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:05:16 It’s not going all around. Yes? Have you ever seen a football player playing football in a cup? You can’t put your eggs in a cup. Right?
    CHANNA COMER
    00:05:24 One of the most critical elements of a design challenge is to build some constraints in. And the constraints you build depend on the level of your students and their level of experience. And so, for this challenge they only had two constraints. The helmet has to stay on the head and it has to prevent the brain from- the skull from cracking.
    BOY [sync]
    00:05:41 I think now it’s going to stay and not be fragile.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:05:44 They’re used to getting cookie cutter labs where they just have a list of instructions and they follow step one, step two, step four. And now they’re being asked to come up with a solution on their own and just take the materials – I’m not telling you which ones to use, I’m not telling you how to build your helmet – just do whatever you want to do.
    GIRL WITH GLASSES
    00:06:03 We used the egg carton pieces to make the helmet and on the inside we lined it with bubble wrap so when the egg falls it won’t crack. And we used the string to secure it around the egg. And the masking tape.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:06:19 STEM to me is a- is a way to engage students in both the scientific process and also to help them to become more critical thinkers, problem solvers and to develop collaborative skills.

    00:06:31 They’re also learning to think through the steps of how they’re actually going to solve the problem. And being creative. So, no two helmets look alike. Everyone had a different solution. So, that’s part of the process, as well.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:06:44 So, we’re going to do our first test. When you come up, you’re going to actually be testing from 30 centimeters, which is the full length of the ruler. So, one person is going to hold the ruler. The other person’s going to hold their person with the helmet on and you’re going to drop it.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:06:58 The purpose of the first test is to see whether their design works at all. And whether it meets the criteria. They come up to the front of the room and they’re going to drop their football player from 30 centimeters off the ground and see what happens once it hits the ground.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:07:15 Okay, so if he were playing football, how would he get tackled? And how would he fall down?
    BOY [sync]
    00:07:18 [unintell]
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    Huh? Like that? Okay, so now let it go.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:07:23 We use that minimum distance and then later on when they do further testing, they’re going to increase their distance to try to come up with a maximum impact speed. So, that’s where the math element of the STEM comes in where they’re starting to calculate the speed of impact.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:07:40 Go. Okay, Go back to your seats. See what you have.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:07:43 And then they need to take their helmets off and examine their egg and see if there’s any damage to the skull.
    BOY [sync]
    00:07:51 Oh. We have a crack in the helmet. At the side. From when we dropped it. When the temporal lobe gets damaged, I think it stops your- your hearing and your vision.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:08:03 The object of the lesson is for them to really put together everything that we’ve learned about the brain. And so, when they do their test if there’s some damage, they’re looking at that damaged area and relating it back to what part of the brain would be affected and how would that affect the person’s function.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:08:19 So, it looks like the crack went all the way up into the helmet. So, what part of the brain would have been affected by that?
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:08:26 His frontal lobe?
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    His frontal lobe. And what do you think the results of that would be?
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:08:30 His personality and emotions will get damaged.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:08:32 Okay.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:08:33 There was a team that their skull didn’t crack, but the helmet once they took it off, it came apart.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:08:41 So, I have a question for you. If that was a real helmet, and someone needed to wear it again, would they be able to put that helmet back on?
    BOY [sync]
    00:08:50 No.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:08:51 So it’s not just meeting the criteria, there’re also other aspects that they might need to change about their design. So, that’s what they’re exploring with that first test.
    BOY [sync]
    00:09:00 Yes!
    CHANNA COMER
    00:09:01 They have a worksheet that guides them through the process. It has all the steps on it that we’re going through in this particular lesson. And they have questions. I give them guiding questions for their evaluation. I’d like them to think about what really worked in their design, but also what didn’t work in their design and how they would modify it for the- for their next test.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    00:09:19 So, who did not have success? Can you tell me why were you not successful? What happened?
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:09:25 We put tape in the wrong places and when we dropped it, it fell on his face and we didn’t put anything to protect the face and- or, like, this part of the head where the frontal lobe’s at.

    00:09:38 And so, it cracked there. And started leaking.
    CHANNA COMER [sync]
    Okay, so if you were designing football helmets-
    CHANNA COMER
    00:09:43 It gives the students an opportunity to make mistakes. And it’s important for students to learn that there’s not always one right answer for things. And it’s okay to do something and it doesn’t work. And you test it and you try something different. And just to really use your creativity because that’s really at the core of engineering and at the core of science.
    BOY [sync]
    00:10:03 Some of the features that helped the design be a success were the cotton ball inside the helmet, the bubble wrap inside the helmet, and we put balloons around our helmet so that if the egg landed on the head- on its head, it could, like, bounce up.
    CHANNA COMER
    00:10:20 Students are really enjoying lessons. They’re enjoying coming to class. I have very few issues with behavior management because they’re all really engaged in what they’re doing. And I’ve actually had a couple of students come up to me and tell me they want to be brain surgeons now, after studying the brain.

    00:10:36 So, for me, that’s really what teaching is about. Really inspiring students to want to learn more. Another thing that’s really interesting – one of told me that one of the things that they learned about themselves from doing this activity is that they work better in a group than they do working by themselves. So, even understanding the value of teamwork is a really critical thing that students are learning from these STEM activities.
    VO
    00:11:07 This teaching moment is made possible by Chase.
    00:11:13 ***END SEGMENT***

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Channa Comer

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