Fourth and fifth graders at Union Ridge Elementary School learn engineering by building zip-lines, visiting Clark Public Utilities’ electricity facilities and listening to lectures from visiting engineers.
In Laurie Pritchard’s fifth grade class, students constructed zip-lines to carry ping pong balls a total of two meters in at least four seconds. “The design challenge for this experiment focuses on making the carrier travel slower, not faster,” said Pritchard. “This experiment exposes the class to concepts of forces and friction typically taught in middle school so that the students will be familiar with the material when they see it again in higher grades.”
Students work in teams to work through the different stages of an engineering project including:
- Defining the Problem
- Researching the problem
- Developing solutions
- Choosing the best solution
- Creating a prototype
- Testing and evaluating the prototype
- Redesigning the prototype (if necessary)
Pritchard volunteered to test the Ping Pong Zip-Line Challenge with her students after taking a course at Educational Service District 112 about introducing engineering concepts into elementary science courses. “I volunteered to test the ping pong challenge with my class and report my results to the rest of the teachers in the ESD course,” said Pritchard. “So far, the results have been excellent as my students have really taken to the new material.”
The Common Core curriculum scheduled for introduction throughout Washington state in the 2014-15 school year brings new requirements to every subject area including science. “There will be a stronger emphasis on applied engineering in the new core classes,” said Pritchard.
When presenting their carriers to the class, many groups discovered that their carrier didn’t work on the different zip-line used for the presentation. “Engineers would want to test for this kind of change and make the necessary redesigns to their project,” taught Pritchard.
Following the class tests and observations, Pritchard discussed concepts including gravity and friction. Students offered observations about what made their carriers move faster or slower including weights (washers), pipe cleaners, straws and other building materials. “I’m pleased to see the variety of designs that you all came up with as a class,” said Pritchard. Pritchard asked the students to rate their team’s communication. Students unanimously ranked team communication as excellent.
Students enthusiastically ranked the project extremely high for giving them a new understanding of engineering. “I like doing experiments and learning more about the world and what happens in it,” said Lilease Waldron, fifth grader. “I like teamwork projects because you work together and come up with better solutions by sharing ideas.”
Other students enjoyed the teamwork element of the project, too. “Teamwork is all about ideas from other people and it’s neat to be able to bounce off other people’s ideas,” said Loni Paine, fifth grade student. “I’m usually more of an independent person when it comes to projects,” said Allum Beatson. “For this project, the teamwork is much better because you get a lot of ideas from other people instead of having to work by yourself.”
Engineering by Example
Union Ridge’s fourth grade went on a field trip tour of Clark Public Utilities’ electricity facilities to learn about electrical engineering. Upon returning to school, Chris Brookreson, an electrical engineer for Intel and father of a student in the class, talked about working with electricity and circuits.
Brookreson guided students through the processes Intel uses to create computer processors as well as a history of the discovery of microscopic switches all the way through to the development of the semiconductor fabrication process.
He then explained how the components of a computer take operating systems and applications to allow people to do work and play games, and concluded with a lesson on how information exposure has increased dramatically over the course of history thanks to the Internet. “The biggest challenge for your younger generation will be filtering through the reams of information at their fingertips to find exactly what you’re looking for,” explained Brookreson.
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