Fifth-graders combine history and engineering in 9/11 lesson

September 22, 2019

Kelly Hynes, a fifth-grade teacher at Love Creek Elementary, has a unique perspective on the tragedy of 9/11.

“Being from New York, I unfortunately was a witness to the towers being struck and falling,” said Hynes. “I watched the events of 9/11 unfold through my classroom window.”

Although 9/11 is an emotional day for all Americans, including Hynes, she made it her goal this year to help her students understand and remember the importance and significance 9/11 has had on the country. Where the lesson ended up, as a result of the conversation, was really what impressed her the most.

“The conversation started out with a lesson in how much pride and love came out of such a tragic event,” said Hynes. “But then we switched the topic to become more logistical, and I prompted the students to think about what engineers need to consider when they’re designing a skyscraper like the World Trade Center. The lesson and conversation that resulted was amazing.”

Students discussed with each other various factors that went into designing a building like a tower at the World Trade Center. Some students said the foundation needed to be strong to withstand heavy winds and storms, and some even discussed the importance of weight distribution.

“I was so impressed with the conversations I was hearing from fifth-graders,” said Hynes. “I decided to give them a challenge.”

Hynes showed the students the World Trade Center tower design and structure, and then gave them the assignment to pair with another person, and build the tallest and strongest tower they could while only using 100 index cards. Students were able to manipulate, fold or roll the cards however they chose, but they could not use tape or glue to hold them together.

“Everyone really enjoyed this challenge,” said Hynes. “Students tried bending the cards into triangles, leaning the cards against one another; some even tried to mimic creating the beams at the center of the World Trade Center by rolling the cards.”

One student quickly realized that as much as this was about reconstructing the towers, it was also about having a growth mind-set and learning from their mistakes. “We had to try our design three different ways until we made a strong tower,” said Ethan Hobbs.

Hynes said, “This is what it’s all about, watching them learn and grow in a variety of ways all from one conversation.” 

Students were able to create a 31-inch tower that held over 150 grams of weight.

“We remember the heroes of 9/11, we remembered the tragedy, the American pride, and the love of humanity in the midst of disaster,” said Hynes. “We remembered the fortitude and the resilience of our nation, but most of all, we learned from it in all different ways.”


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