Students pretend they are agricultural engineers during the colonial period and design a miniature plow that cuts through a "field" of soil. They are introduced to the engineering design process and learn of several famous historical figures who contributed to plow design.
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- Colorado: Science
- a. Analyze and interpret data identifying ways Earth's surface is constantly changing through a variety of processes and forces such as plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, solar influences, climate, and human activity (Grade 5)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Label the parts of the wooden plow that was commonly used during the Colonial period for agricultural purposes.
- Describe how a plow works.
- Design, build and test a model plow, and make suggestions for improvements based on observation.
- 5 Popsicle® sticks
- 1 strip of very thin plywood (or other similar material), ~3" x 6" (~7.5-15 cm)
- 1 pair scissors
- 1 sheet cardstock
- 3-4 toothpicks
- 4 large washers
- One sheet white paper (for drawing a design); recycled is acceptable
- 1-2 small strips of aluminum, ~2 cm thick (optional; for use as a coulter or plowshare)
- Various other materials that might be useful in making a miniature plow
- 1 copy of the Parts of a Plow Handout (pdf)
- 1 copy of the Plow Design Template (pdf)
- 3 copies of the Name the Parts of a Plow Worksheet (pdf)
- 1 large baking dish filled with loose soil or sand
- 2-3 rolls of masking or duct tape
- 1 spring scale (that measures in grams)
- Ruler or measuring tape
|The main support of a plow to which all other pieces are attached.|
|A sharp wedge that precedes the plowshare and cuts vertically through the soil.|
|A long trench in the earth; a groove in soil that allows for mass planting of seeds.|
|A curved piece above the share that turns the soil over as it is cut by the share.|
|A device used for cutting, lifting, turning over, and partly pulverizing soil.|
|The wedge-shaped piece that cuts the soil horizontally.|
Before the Activity
- Prepare the "field" by filling a baking dish with sand/loose soil. Fill the dish with enough soil such that the test can be conducted on the full length of the dish without the side of the dish interfering with the spring scale (see Figure 3).
- Make copies of the Parts of a Plow Handout (pdf) and the Plow Design Template (pdf), one per group (to share).
- Make copies of the Name the Parts of a Plow Worksheet (pdf), one per student.
- Gather all materials; create your "field" of soil/sand.
With the Students
- Divide the class into groups of three students each.
- Use the Parts of a Plow Handout to introduce the students to the parts of a plow and explain their functions.
- Show students the different materials that are available for use in the plow construction, and discuss possible ways to utilize each material.
- Describe the design objectives and testing process. Plows should be designed to plow a single furrow, much like the wooden plows used during the Colonial period. Design the front of the plow to hitch to the hook on the end of the spring scale. Upon completion, each plow will be tested by hooking the front of it to the spring scale and using it to pull the plow through the "field" of soil. The spring scale will measure the amount of force it takes to pull the plow through the dirt. Use a ruler or tape measure to measure the depth of the furrow left by the plow. The best design will be the one that leaves the deepest furrow with less than 200 grams of applied force (measured on the spring scale). If a plow is too light, add washers to the top of it to increase the applied force.
- After explaining how the plows should function and how they will be tested, direct students to begin drawing possible designs on plain white paper. Make sure they label which materials will be used on each part of their design. If your students need a more structured design option, provide the Plow Design Sheet to give them guidance.
- Once a group's design has been checked and approved by the teacher or other adult, direct students to begin constructing their plows.
- When all the teams have finished, begin testing the designs in the soil using the process discussed previously. No pressure can be applied to the plow during testing, other than the force applied from the spring scale and the weight of any washers. The field should be smoothed flat after each test run.
- After the initial test, give students time to change their designs based on what they observed and learned.
- After all of groups have completed the re-design process, perform a final test using the improved plows.
Activity Embedded Assessment
- For lower grades, use the plow design sheet and give students specific design instructions.
- For upper grades, leave the design process open ended. Have students modify the angle of the moldboard / plowshare to observe the difference it makes in the force required to pull the plow and/or the depth of the furrow produced.
Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC, accessed July 9, 2009. http://www.dictionary.com
Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Remedial Section, "Site Remediation Unit," © 1996-2009, accessed July 9, 2009. http://www.kdheks.gov/remedial/scu/landapp/tractor_plowing_lg.jpg
lovetoknow, Classic Encyclopedia, from the 11th ed. of Encyclopedia Britannica, "Plough and Plowing," December 7, 2008, accessed July 9, 2009. http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Plough_And_Ploughing
Northern Indiana Center for History, 2008, accessed July 9, 2009. http://centerforhistory.org/
Rymer, Eric. Historylink101.com, The Story of Farming, "The Plow," January 2004, accessed July 9, 2009. http://historylink101.com/lessons/farm-city/plow.htm
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Big South Fork, "News," July 24, 2006, accessed July 9, 2009. http://www.nps.gov/biso/parknews/images/spring-planting-06.jpg
Jacob Crosby, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: November 26, 2015