Aesop’s fables are short stories with morals, usually involving animals. In the stories, animals face a variety of problems—a peacock whose fancy tail is too heavy for him to fly, a fox who wants to reach a bunch of grapes, a group of mice that wants to put a warning bell around a cat’s neck (and a cat who wants to catch mice).
The students read a fable, then choose an animal in the story as their client, engineering a solution to the animal’s dilemma. Within a class, different children may choose different animals to help. For example, in The Fox and the Pheasants, some children may choose to help the fox dislodge the pheasants from their high branch, while other children may choose to aid the pheasants in staying far away from the fox. Just as children may elect to help different clients, they may opt for a wide variety of solutions.
The children, working in pairs, choose a client to help. They brainstorm possible solutions and agree upon one to build. Using littleBits and craft materials, they construct a device. They test it, using the results, as well as feedback from their classmates, to suggest ways to improve the device. At the end, the students document and share their device, through oral presentations, video, and/or writing.
In this activity, the students will:
– Identify clients and problems in a short piece of fiction through careful reading of the story.
– Brainstorm and evaluate possible solutions to a problem of their choosing within the story.
– Use littleBits to create a working circuit to solve a problem.
– Build, test, and modify their design solutions.
– Give constructive feedback to their classmates on the classmates’ designs.
– Document and reflect upon their inventions.
Common Core Standards Alignment
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1, R.3, R.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, SL.4
Next Generation Science Standards Alignment for K-2 and 3-5:
Core Idea ETS1: Engineering Design
ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions
ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution
Writing can be used throughout the process to document the students’ ideas and to help them analyze their work. See Attachments for examples. Mid-project and end-of-project sharing provide additional opportunities for assessment.
Testing, feedback, and redesign provide excellent opportunities for formative assessment.
Students should be familiar with the power module and output Bits. They should be able to construct a simple littleBits circuit to run a motor or light an LED.
Engineering, Client, Brainstorm, Solution, Feedback
Aesop’s Fables from the Library of Congress: read.gov/aesop/
Novel Engineering website at Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach: novelengineering.org/
Tips and Tricks:
The motor mate can be used to attach pipe cleaners, feathers, and other craft materials to the DC motor.
One hour or longer, depending upon the elaborateness of the solutions and upon the amount of testing, feedback, and documentation involved.
Elementary (ages 8-10)
English Language Arts
MODULES & ACCESSORIES USED (9)
light sensor (1)
rgb led (1)
mounting boards (1)
battery + cable (1)
DC motor (tethered) (1)
OTHER MATERIALS USED (2)
Craft materials such as pipe cleaners, feathers, colored paper, markers 1
LEGO bricks (optional) 1
STEP 1 : SETUP
Choose a fable or fables for the students to engineer. The Library of Congress has an excellent collection of public-domain Aesop’s fables, read.gov/aesop/ Many of the fables lend themselves to introductory Novel Engineering projects. Handouts for four possibilities are included in the Attachments section: The Peacock, The Fox and the Pheasants, The Fox and the Grapes, and Belling the Cat. You can give one fable to the entire class or present several and let students choose the one they want to engineer. You may want to project the text of the fable on a screen or give students hard copies so that they can refer back to the text during the activity.
STEP 2 : CONNECT
Read the fable aloud to the class. Have the children name the possible clients in the fable. For example, in Belling the Cat, the mice or the cat could be the client. Have the students identify problems in the fable. For example, the mice are unable to reach a food source without being exposed to the cat, the mice are not able to put a bell on the cat, the cat is not able to catch mice easily.
STEP 3 : TEACH
Split the children into pairs or trios, either randomly or in teacher-assigned groups. If you wish, you can group the children based upon the problem they are most interested in solving. Have them brainstorm solutions and choose one to prototype.
STEP 4 : ENGAGE
Have the groups design and build the solutions they’ve chosen. Help them devise appropriate tests to see whether the devices function properly and whether they solve the chosen problem. Have the children share their preliminary designs with their classmates, gathering feedback and ideas for improvement.
STEP 5 : PRACTICE
Based upon their testing and the feedback from their classmates, have the students modify and improve their designs.
STEP 6 : CLOSE
Have the students share their projects, using writing, video, and/or presentations.
STEP 7 : EXTENSIONS
More elaborate designs can be done with additional littleBits. For example, sensors can be used to trigger actions, such as an alarm that goes off if a cat approaches.