Hewitt fifth graders tapped into their skills as mathematicians, problem solvers, coders, researchers, and writers to plan road trips across the United States. Their math teacher, Danielle Shields, developed this interdisciplinary project to ground their study of decimal operations. She provided only a few specific guidelines about budget and mileage, encouraging students to make independent decisions about routes, finances, food, and lodging as they planned elaborate trip itineraries.
Once students settled on final destinations for their hypothetical road trips, they researched their routes, taking into account everything from tourist attractions to overnight accommodations. As students made decisions about where their trips might take them, they were careful to choose driving routes that would keep them under the daily maximum drive time of seven hours. They also put their problem-solving skills to work calculating taxes on their purchases and anticipating fluctuating gas prices, an experience that left the fifth graders with a new appreciation for the value of a strong number sense outside of their math classroom.
With the help of Erik Nauman, one of Hewitt’s technology integrators, fifth graders incorporated coding and engineering skills into their road trip planning. As they built cars using Lego bricks, students considered the structural, functional, and aesthetic aspects of their vehicles, revising their initial designs to incorporate littleBits motors and lights. Throughout the process, they persisted through challenges and found clever engineering solutions in order to add battery-powered locomotion to their vehicles.
With their Lego and littleBits integration functioning properly, students programmed Logo Turtle drawing robots to trace their road trip routes across maps of the United States. They used sequences of code such as “fd 150” (forward 150 steps) and “rt 60” (right turn 60 degrees) to move the robots from one state to another while a pen attached to the center of the robot traced the robots’ travels. After extensive debugging and rich discussions full of numbers and geography, student programmers cheered on their robots as they successfully completed their journeys across the country.
At the close of the road trip project, each student presented her final itinerary. This opportunity to share highlights of the project, outline routes, and offer budget breakdowns led to lively conversations about the various challenges and strategies students faced as they planned their trips. Having gained a deeper understanding of the realities of budgeting and planning, students composed written reflections summarizing their experiences and considering how they might approach a similar task differently in the future. Working with motorized Lego cars and programmable drawing robots added the important opportunity to think about the general scenario of traveling across the country with their hands as well as their minds.