Orange County Branch Newsletter

January 2015

K-12 Outreach

K-12 Outreach - Stonegate Elementary

By: Eric Walker

What happens when you give 165 fourth graders marshmallows, toothpicks, and a shake table? On November 14th ASCE OC YMF sought to find out! Five volunteers went to Stonegate Elementary school in Irvine to help teach students about the engineering field and the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math careers are. Each volunteer was paired with a fourth grade teacher and gave a short presentation on what they do for their job and how math and science have helped them and how critical engineering work is to the student’s daily lives.

After the short presentation was fun and interactive part of the class, the design activity. The students were grouped into teams of 4 and tasked with building the tallest structure that could withstand the a simulated earthquake on the shake table. Each team was given some small marshmallows and toothpicks and set off! Walking around the room, I was really impressed with some of the deliberation that was going on with the teams and the designs the teams came up with. Some groups decided to go with a short but sturdy design while others went straight for height. Many of the students thought about buildings they had seen before and pulled in knowledge of gravity to build structures such as pyramids and cubes. 

After what seemed like a blur of 30 minutes it was time for the testing. All the kids gathered around the shake table and looked intently to see if their structure would survive. Each stroke of the table back and forth drew gasps and oohs from the crowd and when one of the structures would survive there was cheering all around. Surprisingly most of the towers survived and so it really did come down to height. The team that won in my classroom was extremely clever and put an antenna on the top of their structure to get just enough height to push them over the edge to victory.

The feedback from the teachers was great because they so seldom get professionals who are able to come in and describe what they do and how it relates to what the kids are studying. It seems to give the kids renewed interest in what they are learning in the classroom when they can see how it connects to the real world. The whole event was a great experience and all of the teachers, students, and volunteers are excited for the opportunity to work together again.

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