January 29, 2016
Cathedral fifth graders Katee Hollenbeck and Emily Appert jumped for joy when the wheels on the tiny cart they built finally moved.
The pair had constructed the model cart with plastic wheels, axels and assorted parts like you’d find in a LEGO kit. After quite a bit of trial and error, the youngsters’ creation traveled swiftly down a ramp in their classroom earlier this month.
The project is part of the STEM program through the local Sylvan Learning Center. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The Cathedral students began learning about computer programming in December, prior to starting the nine-day Sylvan program, which enhances learning through projects in robotics and engineering.
From here, they will continue with projects to reinforce their STEM knowledge as well as teamwork and problem-solving skills through hands-on learning. Teachers Kay Power and Kelsy Power will be sharing the lessons with younger students as well as with teachers and students at St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s elementary schools in Bismarck.
Learning to persevere
The issues that Katee and Emily encountered while building their cart encouraged them to consider that there are many variables that can affect how far or fast vehicles move. When asked about their challenges, Katee responded, “We fixed it. We must have tried 50 times. We added a longer axle to get the wheels to move better and changed the weight in the back,” she added pointing to the underside of the cart.
Small victories like this in the classroom translate into confidence and piqued interest in STEM subjects—areas of high demand for careers later in life.
Some kids built “freewheeler” carts that used the force of gravity as their power. Other kids built “land yachts” that moved with wind power. For the carts, students had to consider how the size of the wheels, weight of the cart, and height of the ramps affected the speed and distance. For the land yachts, students considered how the size of the wheels, sails, and wind forces affected the speed and distance.
Sixth graders Ian Indovina and Kyle Hutzenbiler built a land yacht that “sailed” across the floor of their classroom with the help of a household fan providing the wind power. Ian’s favorite part was building it and figuring out modifications to make it travel farther. His partner for the day, Kyle, agreed. “I like that we had the freedom to build it from scratch how ever we wanted.” It’s that chance to be creative and trouble shoot that motivated the boys to go back to the drawing board whenever necessary.
Utilizing computer programming skills
In the classroom next door, Alayna Kraft and Jordan Jacobson were among a group of fifth graders working on designing tower cranes from LEGOs and using a computer to program them to lift and move cargo.
“I’d like to do computer programming, I think,” noted Alayna, when asked about her future career aspirations. She’s learning that the projects don’t come without some frustrations—all leading to more problem-solving skills. “It won’t stop,” Alayna said to her work partner, Jordan, as the pair tried trouble shooting the problem with their crane. “I think I might know what might be going on,” she adds as she adjusted some of the computer commands.
Building a foundation early on
Kari Weigel, executive director of the local Sylvan Center, said it’s great working with schools and teachers that are willing to be progressive and expose the students at a young age to these types of projects. It’s about building a foundation for learning and fostering the emerging STEM skills early on in young kids who are eager to learn and not afraid to fail while working toward a solution.
Fifth-grade teacher Kay Power, said teaming up with Weigel at Sylvan has been a great partnership. The STEM program is usually offered as an after-school activity, but the goal was to integrate in into the regular school day to make it more accessible to all students.
By combining the classrooms, 68 students at Cathedral took part in the Sylvan program. Thanks to generous parents and donors the program was affordable to bring into the classroom. Donors included: KPE Engineers-Architects-Forensic Experts; Bismarck Air Medical; Jim and Jody Hauge; Mr. and Mrs. Fritz; Christine Fleischacker, Chris and Tracy Spies, Montana-Dakota Utilities; Churchill Pharmacy; Schlosser Solutions; Dakota Family Smiles; Aiki Digital Web Solutions; and other anonymous donors.
Light of Christ opportunities
In the hopes of offering similar opportunities to more students, the parent groups within the Light of Christ system have recently purchased robotics kits for all three elementary schools at Cathedral, St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s. Cathedral principal Matt Strinden said students in grades 3-6 would use the kits.
“The projects tie in quite nicely with what the older students are already doing at the Light of Christ Academy,” Strinden said. “So we can introduce it to our students at an earlier age and they can start to make that connection between the classroom instruction in math and science and the tangible hands-on learning offered by the robotics programs.”