Woodland Fifth-graders Learn with Engineers

Feb. 26, 2015 ~ Fifth-graders at Woodland Elementary School are turning into engineers with the help of pint milk cartons, straws, and two engineers from Honeywell. The seven-week A World in Motion project takes students from wondering what engineering is to wanting to become engineers when they're adults.

"A World in Motion gets students excited about science," said fifth-grade teacher Amy Walker. "They begin to see themselves as engineers. We actually call them scientists and engineers and they wear name tags to show their specific jobs."

Walker first became involved with A World in Motion when she taught sixth grade at Meadow Lane Elementary School in 2006-07. (The curriculum and activities were designed many years ago by the Society of Automotive Engineers and have been used at Meadow Lane since 1992.) She and fellow teacher Jeff Carlson enjoyed the activity so much that they adopted it when they moved to Woodland Elementary in 2008.

“Jeff Carlson was the main person who helped bring A World in Motion to Woodland when our school opened,” Walker said. Carlson has since become a social science teacher at Mission Trail Middle School.

A World in Motion began at Woodland with an explanation of engineering and introducing Matt Smith and Jacque Hoisington from Honeywell. Both engineers have strong ties to the Olathe School District and have participated in A World in Motion at other schools.

"We get the students excited about science and do a teamwork activity to show that when you work in a team you can get more accomplished because everyone looks at a problem differently," Walker said.

The next few weeks of lessons include exploration days when students experiment with friction, gravity, balloon power, etc., and investigation days. The engineers return once per week to see what the students have learned.

"Students learn content specific language and vocabulary then can apply on Fridays with the engineers," she said. "The engineers create a comfortable, professional environment and students definitely learn several science concepts."

Using donated milk cartons that are cut in half, straws, dowel rods and washers, students build little cars to test on a track during the final two weeks of A World in Motion.

"Not only are students learning science concepts, but math is a huge component of A World in Motion," Walker said. "Students record data and find averages. They love working problems on the white board just like scientists and engineers do. We include writing in a journal to help students remember what they learned from each week. They learn how to write and share their data so it's meaningful to themselves as well as fellow scientists."

Although the curriculum was designed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, Hoisington and Smith realize it takes a lot of work by teachers to keep it going in the classroom.

"This program takes significant extra effort on the part of teachers," Hoisington said. "All of these teachers who use A World in Motion deserve a big thank you and recognition for their commitment to bring this opportunity to the students."

Walker also appreciates the partnership between Honeywell and the schools.

"I think it's just so fun to think outside of the box when teaching," she said. "We are using community resources to teach the science content, while engaging students in real life problem solving skills.

"The kids get so excited when Mr. Smith and Mrs. Hoisington come to our classroom. I cannot even put into words how thankful I am for their time and support of this program."

Girls work on car Two teammates practiced inflating the balloon “engine” on their race car. A pint milk carton cut in half served as the car’s body and straws made the axels to attach plastic cap wheels. Air rushing out the back of the balloon “engine” gave the car its forward power. Newton’s Third Law of Motion is one of many things students learned during the World of Motion unit.
Boys work on car Removing the air pump from the inflated balloon is tricky, as these boys learned before a race. The key is to keep the balloon stem closed until the car is in place at the start of the race ramp. “The teachers always have the students write us thank you notes at the end and often students will say they didn't know what engineering was but now they want to be an engineer,” Honeywell engineer Jacque Hoisington said. “All say they had a great time and learned a lot.”
Girl works math problem Each team recorded the length of their three test runs and calculated the average distance before entering the figure on a comparison chart. Five teams in each class were asked to try three methods of powering their car down the ramp and over a speed bump. “I love the excitement that this program generates in the kids and it is very rewarding personally to know that in a small way, I might have helped inspire a kid to think about becoming an engineer or scientist,” Hoisington said.
Boys release car onto ramp Just before releasing the balloon stem on their car, these boys made sure it was properly aligned with the ramp ahead. Students measured the distance their cars traveled across the classroom and used their math skills to find an average trip length. “I love the program because it is hands on and fun for the kids,” Hoisington said.
Girl and boy adjust car

“I think one of the most important things that students take away from this activity is the teamwork skills,” teacher Amy Walker said. “They have to compromise, listen, and work together to build a successful car. These skills will be important as they start to think about their future careers.”

Photos by Marlene Colgan