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Hands-on Activity: Charlotte's Web
Contributed by: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Summary

Similar to how Charlotte uses her web to communicate, students create webs for short messages. They learn how spiders create their webs, and about the different types of webs they make. With this knowledge, students design and create their own webs and incorporate messages.

Engineering Connection

Relating science and/or math concept(s) to engineering

Design is a key part of engineering. It involves first understanding the problem or challenge, and clarifying what we want to accomplish, then imagining different ideas, then researching methods and making plans, then documenting the best plan with sketches and diagrams, then creating a prototype and refining it until it satisfies the goal.

Contents

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Materials
  3. Introduction/Motivation
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Procedure
  6. Attachments
  7. Investigating Questions
  8. Assessment
  9. Activity Scaling
  10. Multimedia
  11. References

Grade Level: 4 (3-5) Group Size: Not defined
Time Required: 45 minutes
Activity Dependency :None
Expendable Cost Per Group
: US$ 2
[Approximately $10 for an entire class: foam core board ($9) or extruded foam insulation ($7), string ($1-2), thread ($.59), Popsicle sticks ($1)]
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Related Curriculum :

subject areas Life Science

Educational Standards :    

  •   International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
    • C. Things that are found in nature differ from things that are human-made in how they are produced and used. (Grades 3 - 5) [2000] ...more
    • D. Tools, materials, and skills are used to make things and carry out tasks. (Grades 3 - 5) [2000] ...more
    • E. Information can be acquired and sent through a variety of technological sources, including print and electronic media. (Grades 3 - 5) [2000] ...more
    • F. Communication technology is the transfer of messages among people and/or machines over distances through the use of technology. (Grades 3 - 5) [2000] ...more
    • G. Letters, characters, icons, and signs are symbols that represent ideas, quantities, elements, and operations. (Grades 3 - 5) [2000] ...more
  •   Massachusetts: Science
    • 2.1 Identify a problem that reflects the need for shelter, storage, or convenience. (Grades 3 - 5) [2001] ...more
    • 2.2 Describe different ways in which a problem can be represented, e.g., sketches, diagrams, graphic organizers, and lists. (Grades 3 - 5) [2001] ...more
    • 2.3 Identify relevant design features (e.g., size, shape, weight) for building a prototype of a solution to a given problem. (Grades 3 - 5) [2001] ...more
    • 2.4 Compare natural systems with mechanical systems that are designed to serve similar purposes, e.g., a bird's wings as compared to an airplane's wings. (Grades 3 - 5) [2001] ...more
Does this curriculum meet my state's standards?       

Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)

  • How spider webs are made and what they are used for.
  • How to sketch a design before constructing a product prototype.
  • Construction and design techniques in their own spider webs.

Materials List (Return to Contents)

Each student needs:

  • 2 9 x 2-in pieces of foam core board OR 1 9 x 12-in piece of 3/4-in thick extruded foam insulation (available at hardware stores)
  • 30 push pins
  • 75 ft white string or thread
  • 1 piece of black construction paper
  • glue
  • 1 Popsicle stick
  • Communication Worksheet

Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)

How many of you remember the story of Charlotte's Web? (Read or review with students, as needed.) In what ways did Charlotte use her web? What are some methods of communication we use that are similar to Charlotte as well as other spiders?
What do you know about spiders? What is spider "silk"? (Listen to student ideas.) The bodies of spiders are able to spin "silk" thread that they use to make webs. What are some ways spiders use their webs? For what else might they use their silk? They use their silk for travel, to catch prey, to construct shelter, to cover eggs, to enclose their young, and for flight to safety.
Spider silk is pretty amazing. Have you ever been "caught" in a spider's web? Well a unique characteristic of spider silk is that it is the strongest natural (and human-made) fiber. Spider silk can be stretched 20-25% without breaking and return to its original shape.
Not all spider webs look like Charlotte's. Different types of spiders make different kinds of webs. Here are some examples. (Show students the attached templates for a few web structure types. Add to the discussion any additional information on spiders, webs and communication.)
Today you are going to communicate, as Charlotte did, by creating webs that contain messages. You will come up with a design that you sketch before constructing your own spider web. Can you be as creative as Charlotte?

Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)

design: The ideas and plans to be made into a prototype, as represented by sketches or drawings.

Background

Spiders use their silk for travel, to catch prey, to construct a home, to cover eggs, to enclose young, and for flight. Spider silk is the strongest natural and human-made fiber. Spider silk can be stretched 20-25% without breaking and returns to its original shape. Different types of webs include spiral orb, tangle or cobwebs, funnel, sheet, tubular, triangle, dome or tent webs (see recommended resources and Attachment sections for examples and more information).
Recommended Resources:
Ed Nieuwenhuys' excellent website on The Spider: Web and Silk: http://ednieuw.home.xs4all.nl/Spiders/InfoNed/webthread.html
Garden Orb Web Spider; step-by-step pictures and diagrams show the creation of an orb web structure: http://www.oocities.org/brisbane_weavers/Garden_sp.htm
Do a Google image search for "spider silk" for pictures to show students.

Preparation

  • Gather materials and make copies of the worksheet and other attachments.
  • IF USING FOAM CORE BOARD: Pre-cut two 9 x 12-in pieces of foam board per student. Glue the two pieces of board together and let dry.
  • IF USING EXTRUDED FOAM INSULATION: Pre-cut to 9 x 12-in pieces, one piece per student.
  • Measure out the string. Technique: Measure and wind the string around a one-foot ruler until the desired length is achieved. Then cut the string and wind it around a Popsicle stick as you take it off of the ruler. (Takes about one minute to measure, cut and wind around a Popsicle stick.)

With the Students

PROBLEM - THE CHALLENGE: Communicate without using sounds, and preferably without using pen and paper.
  1. Introduce spiders, their webs and silk. Discuss the purpose of webs (and silk), how they are created, and basic types. Discuss various forms of communication (a brief look at the history of communication would be appropriate) and the story of Charlotte's Web.
  2. Have students pick one type of web to build. Have them draw preliminary design sketches for their webs.
  3. Give students the materials. Have them glue the piece of black construction paper to the foam board (or foam insulation).
  4. Demonstrate how to create a web (as follows): Push the push pins into the foam board at every point you want change directions. The push pins act as the "skeleton" of the web. Wind string around the push pins to create the web. Technique: To secure the web, pull the push pins up a little bit to expose a tiny bit of the metal post. Wrap the string around the post once and then push the push pin down. You can also wind string around the upper part.
    Photo shows a web that spells out TIME made from white string wrapped around push pins poked into a black board.
    Example completed web design with a message.
  5. Have students create their own webs patterned after one type of web structure used by spiders. Show them how they can use the string on the Popsicle stick to easily wrap around the push pins. The string pulls off easily, just like thread off a spool.
  6. Once students have created their webs, challenge them to create words, just as in Charlotte's Web. Restrict the words to three or four letters in length.
  7. As a class, share the completed webs and read the words contained within them. Was your method of silent communication successful?

Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)

  • What is communication?
  • What are different ways to communicate?
  • How do babies communicate?
  • What are ways to communicate without sound?
  • What resembles a spider web in our world? (Possible answers: Fishing nets, crochet, bridge trusses.)
  • What materials can we use to create our own webs?
  • What are the advantages of spider's silk?
  • Why do spiders build webs?
Worksheet: Have students answer the questions on the activity worksheet. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.
Rubric: Evalalute student performance by using the attached rubric with criteria for web message design and construction as well as worksheet completion.

Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)

  • To simplify the activity, introduce the concepts and background information, and demonstrate how to create a web. Then, rather than have students create the web first and then messages, have them create their messages and then a random spider "web-like" design.
  • For an easier modification to the activity (but with a less impressive end result), introduce the concepts and background information, demonstrate how to create a web and have students design and create webs following the Procedure instructions. Then have students write their messages on pieces of paper and attach them to their webs.
  • For more advanced students, have them first do research on spiders, silk and web types, and share what they learned with the rest of the class before conducting the web messaging activity. Have other students research the history of communication and/or types of verbal and non-verbal communication.

Additional Multimedia Support (Return to Contents)

Learn more about the steps of the engineering design process at http://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php

Nieuwenhuys, Ed. The Spider: Web and Silk. Last updated April 31, 2008. Accessed November 27, 2011.
Good information, images and diagrams on the topics of web and silk thread, applications of spider silk, types of webs, spider's various uses of silk. http://ednieuw.home.xs4all.nl/Spiders/InfoNed/webthread.html

Kramer, David C. Animals in the Classroom. 1989 Addison Wesley Longman Inc., published by Dales Seymour Publications, a division of Pearson Education Inc. (portions of the activity)

White, E.B. Charlotte's Web. Harper Trophy. April 1999. ISBN:0064400557

Charlotte's Web Theatreworks. Sangamon Auditorium, University of Illinois Springfield.
(image of Charlotte's Web book cover) http://www.uis.edu/sangamonauditorium/classacts/untitled.htm

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program (Return to Contents)

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last Modified: September 17, 2014
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