A Successful Design and an Important Lesson

Written by: Mrs. Chrissa May

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a robot hand that has never lost a game of rock-paper-scissors. Thanks to a high-speed camera, the robot can detect within one millisecond which shape the human hand is making and then produces the corresponding winning shape. Fortunately, the fifth graders at York Country Day School have been using the engineering design process for other purposes, such as creating smores packages that can withstand impact, heat, and a good dousing of water. For you see, good old rock-paper-scissors saved the day recently in fifth grade. Actually, it was good sportsmanship that saved the day, but rock-paper-scissors had a hand in it too.

It was a typical day. The classroom was humming with collaborative chatter as students were enthusiastically engaged in the ‘improve’ step of the engineering design process. Well, all were with the exception of one group. They were engaged in a stalemate. After much discussion, they could not agree on which plan they should embrace for improving the design of their tower. Each had a plausible idea, but neither wanted to compromise. Enter rock-paper-scissors. With a deadline looming, the reluctant students agreed to resolve their conflict the old-fashioned way. Agreeing on a method of resolution was this group’s first success. Their greatest success, however, was what happened next. They got to work. The victor did not celebrate. The less fortunate student did not sulk. Instead they began executing the winning plan…quietly at first. But it wasn’t long before the students were talking, then smiling, then cheering on their emerging masterpiece. The last group to start did, in fact, win the challenge, but not simply because their tower was the tallest. They won because of a little thing called sportsmanship.

You see we teach children to be good sports on the field and in the arena- congratulate the winners, say, “good game” to the losers. But then the players disperse, going home with their disappointment or out to celebrate with their teammates. Winning and losing in the classroom can be much more challenging because it is often only the beginning. Students have to manage their emotions while simultaneously getting down to work. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always pretty, but it’s what we do. And when two of us do it well, we all win.