By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)
The new Harford Hills elementary after-school STEM program spearheaded by Nia Fields and Dwayne Murphy, kicked off on February 2nd, 2016. The programs first lesson focused on science and engineering taught by Ms. Nia Fields, Mr. Dwayne Murphy and I. The first lesson encouraged students to design their own clip mobile: a car using materials such as craft sticks, straws, paper clips and other miscellaneous items. Twenty-four 1st through 5th grade Harford Hills students were asked to weigh in on the differences between scientists and engineers. Their combined responses were that “scientists study things” and “engineers build stuff.” When the students were asked what type of things engineers build they gave enthusiastic responses such as “Wal-Mart, Washington Monument, Empire state building, chairs, tables, etc.”
Mr. Dwayne Murphy tested the students observation skills by having them guess whether or not a cardboard with various tape textures will allow a box of paper clips to slide down an incline. Their responses ranged from “slide but slow, won’t slide.” When asked how to make the box of paper clips slide down the tape with rougher textures, the students responded that “more angle on the cardboard incline would make it slide”. Others responded to “add wheels, push the box, and flick the bottom of the cardboard to get the box to hop down the incline” .The lesson taught the students that the friction of the rougher tape textures kept the box from sliding down. The smoother tape textures that allowed the paper clip box to slide down easily because gravity pulled down on the paperclip box. The students also learned that the steeper the incline of the cardboard, the more gravity was able to push down on the box, causing it to slide down.
The main experiment involved students designing their own clip mobile with limited materials. The students needed to design their own vehicles that was capable of moving down an incline, while carrying a load (box of paper clips) without that load falling off. At the end of the experiment, students learned that it sometimes takes multiple tries before engineers are successful. Students learned that not having certain materials caused a restriction in how they could build their vehicles. Some restrictions included no scissors, no tape and limited time. One student replied “I wish I could have the whole day” to work on the project and time was really a factor and he was excited to keep going. At the end of the lesson, each group had a clip mobile, some were more successful than others, but they all look forward to next week’s lesson “Building a Marshmallow Catapult”!