Problem Solving Under Pressure
Lesson Objective: Students get college and career ready with rigorous STEM experiences
Grades 9-12 / Science / STEM

Thought starters

  1. Why does class begin with "The Affirmations"?
  2. How does having only "one shot" help students understand the importance of the engineering project?
  3. How is learning from failures highlighted in the class presentations?
7 Comments
Thank you for sharing this great lesson and your strategies for a positive classroom! Love the real-world nature of the problem, the engineering and collaboration skills, the limited time aspect, and the reflections shared on large paper.
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Great job teach! No cellphone distractions!
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Great video on STEM. Good teacher with some great project ideas.
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Thank you so much for your contribution! All of your lessons are excellent and will keep students engaged. The student outcomes are excellent. I really like how you used real world situations. The supplies are affordable and help students solve problems. I a so excited to try these lessons. Many teachable moments.
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The presentation was very excellent. The students were engaged and the hands on activity was meaningful. Also, the student affirmations are very creative and may be very useful in many 9-12 classroom settings.
Recommended (1)

Transcripts

  • AMAZING CLASSROOMS: “PROBLEM SOLVING UNDER PRESSURE”
    PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
    Narrator:
    At the Manual Arts High School in South Central Los Angeles,

    AMAZING CLASSROOMS: “PROBLEM SOLVING UNDER PRESSURE”
    PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
    Narrator:
    At the Manual Arts High School in South Central Los Angeles, John Santos is the
    lead teacher in ISTA, the Imaging Sciences and Technology Academy, a
    program he founded 14 years ago. Santos works from a strong belief that all of
    his students have the potential to become successful leaders in a STEM-based
    workforce, and he strives to prepare them for college study in engineering and
    related fields.
    John Santos (Interview):
    Students we take in, the average GPA is below a 2.0; they usually finish with an
    average GPA of about 3.15, and a lot of them decide to go on to college. The
    United States in the future in going to be a country of innovators and
    entrepreneurs, and if I can have my students thinking that way now, then ten,
    fifteen years from now, I know that they’re going to be extremely successful.
    Narrator:
    Always wanting to underline the themes of potential and success, Santos begins
    his classes with what he calls the affirmations.
    Santos:
    OK. Call it.
    Carlos:
    Heads.
    Santos:
    It’s tails. We start with you.
    Carlos:
    Good morning, my name is Carlos. I am in the 10th grade. I am 16 years old. I
    am an ISTA student, and when I’m older, I’ll be a doctor and I’ll be successful.
    Sudia:
    Good morning, my name is Sudia. I am in the 10th grade. I’m 16 years old.
    When I’m older, I’ll be a lawyer, and I’ll be successful.
    William:
    Good morning, my name is William. I am 16 years old, I’m an ISTA student, I’m
    a 10th grader. When I am older, I’ll be a judge, and I’ll be successful.
    John Santos (Interview):
    By them standing up and sharing what it is they want to become, with everybody,
    it reaffirms it to themselves.
    Hector:
    When I grow older, I’ll be a mechanical engineer, and I’ll be successful.
    John Santos (Interview):
    It’s a great introduction, especially for a high school student, to be able to walk up
    to somebody, shake somebody’s hand, and be able to introduce themselves that
    way and feel confident about themselves.
    John Santos (Interview):
    The class that I teach is Graphic Design with an emphasis on manufacturing and
    digital design. We do a lot of applied math and physics.
    Santos:
    Today, we’re going to simulate something that happened in history, about a year
    ago. It was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and that took place on April 20th.
    And on April 26th, these engineers decide they’re going to come up with a way to
    plug up this oil well.
    John Santos (Interview):
    We start the project by giving them a bag of materials and telling them that they
    need to find a way with those materials to cap the oil well.
    Santos:
    And with your team, you’re going to have to figure out how to use those materials
    in that bag to reach an oil well 1½ meters away. This is the oil well, OK? And,
    this is what you’re going to plug it with. You’re going to have to use your skills
    and build a device that can get this ping-pong ball into this pail––in one shot.
    ‘Cause these engineers, how many shots did they get? One shot! You will have
    15 minutes, starting now.
    Narrator:
    Santos likes to rely as much as he can on real-life scenarios, so that his students
    understand the relevance of honing their problem-solving skills.
    John Santos (Interview):
    In the real world, we understand that time is money. I don’t think that comes
    across to students––most students––until they’re out of college.
    Santos:
    Four minutes have gone by. Use your time wisely.
    John Santos (Interview):
    I try to allow them to appreciate the stress that those engineers were under to try
    to build that project.
    Santos:
    You can only use what I gave you. And there’s a hint in that.
    Hector:
    We can use the bag, Mister?
    John Santos (Interview):
    If they do use the bag and tear it open, with the pieces of paper that I gave them,
    they have enough materials that they can build a long gutter that will drop the
    ping-pong ball into the bucket.
    Santos:
    You have one minute… OK, time! That’s it. All work on device stops! You must
    start from behind that line, and you’ll get one shot to get the ball in there.
    Remember, all team members must be holding the device.
    Students:
    Yeah, there… A little bit… No, no, there… Like that…
    Santos:
    You only get one shot.
    Students:
    Ah!...
    Santos:
    Team 2.
    Students:
    Go, go, go… Ah, it’s gonna fall… It doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter… Ohhhh! Oh
    my god!...
    Santos:
    Team 3.
    Students:
    Dang!
    Santos:
    Was anybody successful today? No? What could have been done to possibly
    improve the outcome? What were some of the things you didn’t know?
    Carlos:
    We coulda put two sticks, like, in the front, so when the ball would go down, it
    would know where it was going.
    Eric:
    We didn’t work, like, together. We were just building, like, whatever.
    Carlos:
    We were building each one of our own wo we could see whose was better.
    Narrator:
    For each of his in-class exercises, Santos stresses the value of learning from
    failure, and he requires his students to methodically take note of the lessons
    learned.
    Carlos:
    Our challenge was to build a device that would drop a ping-pong ball into a
    pretend oil well. Our device was not successful due to the following: We did not
    used all the material provided in the small bag provided for us…
    Hector:
    The angle wasn’t right. We were a little—probably too high…
    Brian:
    What we did right was we added a little bit more features into our projectile, so it
    could go a little longer and it could bounce better…
    Santos:
    Well, we’ll see on Monday how well this is learned. OK, have a seat.
    John Santos (Interview):
    I used to be a football coach, so basically, what I’ve done is I’ve put that intensity
    in the classroom, where I create a level of stress, a level of urgency, where they
    feel that they need to win.
    Santos:
    Let’s get started. Everybody up! Everyone stretch. OK… Punching positions,
    ready?! Begin! First period… second period… third period… fourth period…
    Narrator:
    While the oil well project stresses creative problem solving, Santos’ reverse
    engineering project exercises his students’ analytic thinking.
    Santos:
    And so the first question is, What is reverse engineering? What is it?
    John Santos (Interview):
    Reverse engineering is when you have the final idea of what it is you want to
    develop in your head, and then see what you need to achieve each step of the
    way backwards in order to reach your goal.
    Santos:
    If you’re working from the product backwards, what is that doing for you? How
    does that assist you?
    Sudia:
    You know your solution?
    Santos:
    Maybe other solutions, right? How does it allow you to see problems?
    Brian:
    So say if you have, like, the Rube Goldberg machine that we did, we figure it out
    so that we won’t make mistakes at the end, so we won’t have to worry about that
    last-minute.
    Santos:
    OK, so that you know that as you step it backwards you’ll see the problems
    ahead of time, right? What we’re going to do is we’re going to show you the end
    product. That’s all we’re going to show you. You’re going to look at this, and
    you’re going to have a limited amount of time, so detail becomes important,
    because if you mess up on a detail, your project—you’re gonna build it, and it’s
    not gonna work. Only one or two members on your team is gonna get a chance
    to see it, so you’re gonna have to make the determination on your team, who you
    want to see it—ok?—whether you want them to take notes or not—that might be,
    I’m giving you a clue. For this project, I’m giving you 20 minutes.
    Santos:
    What you’re doing is you’re building a switch to light this diode, and once it
    lights––once it hits the wire––you see that?––it’ll light.
    John Santos (Interview):
    They’re hoping whoever came up here and looked at it was paying attention
    enough to get it right, and they have to go and explain it to those people.
    Santos:
    Once you go, once you get to your table, you cannot come back.
    Student:
    Well, I just pretty much drew it.
    Eduardo:
    This is the batteries cell?
    Carlos:
    Yeah, three batteries, like this.
    Hector:
    So the middle battery, what way does it have to be facing if it’s gonna be
    negative on that side and positive on this side?
    John Santos (Interview):
    I want them to see that it’s important to work with others, and know how to work
    with others, and how having different ideas create for even better results. For
    me, that’s extremely important.
    Georgina:
    The long wire was positive…
    Santos:
    Four minutes.
    Hector:
    Okay, you guys do this part now.
    Sudia:
    Really?
    Hector:
    We’ve got mostly everything on.
    John Santos (Interview):
    As you can see, with most of my projects, they never have enough time. I
    always give them just enough materials to get done what they need to do.
    Student:
    Come on, there’s a positive and negative, negative and positive…
    Santos:
    30 seconds…
    Sudia:
    The red one is the positive, no…
    Santos:
    Five… four… three… two… one… Time. Anybody complete the device?
    Students:
    No.
    Santos:
    Whaddya got? No. You didn’t pay attention, pay attention to detail. I told you
    detail is important. Did you take notes? Let’s see your notes. Those are your
    “Problem Solving Under Pressure” – PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT page 7
    notes? Whoa! Those are extensive notes! Three words on a piece of paper!
    And that’s gonna help them?!
    Santos:
    OK, that’s it. Let’s stop.
    John Santos (Interview):
    There was Team One, which came really close. They were just one wire off.
    Santos:
    How’s it wired? Is that wired the same?
    Carlos:
    Not really.
    Santos:
    One’s red, and one’s black, huh? Who drew this out?
    Carlos:
    Me.
    Santos:
    You drew it out?
    Carlos:
    Yeah.
    Santos:
    Here, you got a look at it? Can you fix it right now?
    Sudia:
    Next time, we’re gonna have better critical thinking and more details on notes so
    we could know what exactly we have to do.
    Santos:
    So, on something like that, especially if you’re working as a team, you need to
    make certain that both people work effectively, right?
    Hector:
    It’s kind of my fault, too, because I didn’t take notes. Like, she basically did the
    rest.
    Sudia:
    Yeah.
    Santos:
    OK, good. Have a seat.
    John Santos (Interview):
    The purpose of the Jitterbug project is to give them a release, more than
    anything else. As you can see, the last two days, I’ve kept them pretty uptight,
    pretty stressed, and on a timeline. And the Jitterbug project is more of a project
    where they still need to follow a process, but it’s more casual.
    Sudia:
    This one—this is a positive, this is a negative—it’s flat. Wait…
    William:
    It’s in Spanish?
    Santos:
    What it’ll do is, I’ll put the battery up here, and there’s a motor on the bottom, and
    when this thing starts to spin, this little device creates an imbalance as the motor
    turns, so this thing bounces around.
    Hector:
    That’s awesome, man.
    John Santos (Interview):
    And so, by having the Jitterbug project, they build something, they take it home,
    they show it to their relatives—everybody’s, like, “Wow!” You know? And it’s a
    simple, little toy, but when you take that home, it just—it looks like a tech toy, so
    it creates a lot of interest in the family, it allows them to talk to their parents about
    what they’re doing, and they feel good about themselves.
    Sudia:
    Go faster!
    Student:
    Ours goes faster, man.
    John Santos (Interview):
    When we go to various standardized testing, there is—you take one question,
    you go through the question, you look at the answers—only one of them is
    correct. In life, you have many choices, and you have to look at things and then
    figure out which is the best method to solve the problem at hand. If you can take
    the time to look at things and say, “How can I do this better,” it’ll affect the way
    they live their lives and the type of jobs they’ll have in the future

School Details

Manual Arts Senior High School
4131 South Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90037
Population: 1514

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John Santos

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Grades 9-12 / ELA / Tch DIY

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English Language Arts