Marshmallows flew everywhere. Mini rockets soared across the room. I was handing out gumdrops, straws, and toothpicks. Yes, this was for the engineering program of the Darrington-STEM partnership. And yes, I swear this was educational.
Today was the day the Darrington kids got to come over to Tesla STEM High School. Last time, the STEM kids went up to Darrington and had the chance to witness the beautiful White Horse Mountain and surrounding scenery. This time, the Darrington kids would get to see some of the cool gadgets STEM has.
Neha and I got the opportunity to run an engineering workshop for the students. Over the course of the past year, we started STEMcademy, an organization dedicated to providing students with STEM enrichment through project based learning. In our local community, we host monthly workshops and competitions for elementary and middle school students. Today, we got to share some of our favorite activities with the kids from Darrington.
In the morning, when Congresswoman Delbene was giving an introduction, I saw some familiar faces from my last workshop in Darrington, but some new faces as well. It was exciting to see them here at STEM.
We started off the day with icebreakers to get to know each other. “Your name’s Kale? Like the vegetable!?!” I asked. Kale nodded his head, and exclaimed, “Everyone asks me that!” Another girl pointed out that the dark green outfit he was wearing reflected his name perfectly.
Then, we started constructing catapults. Typically, I would demonstrate how to make a catapult and let the kids follow along. Today, I gave the students the challenge of just simply handing out the materials, and giving them 20 minutes to make any kind of projectile machine. At first when I handed out 7 skewers, 4 marshmallows, a rubber band, and a spoon to each student, they looked at me like, “How the heck am I supposed to make a catapult out of this?” After giving out some hints, the kids started building impressive-looking structures and soon began shooting marshmallows and gumdrops all over the place. It appears that they were already budding engineers. When I told the students I had a candy prize for whoever hit the target first, the rapid fire launching began.
Next, we had a few structural building contests and challenged students to make the strongest structure out of gumdrops and toothpicks. When I told the kids to build a structure to carry the weight of a textbook out of the materials given, they thought it would be impossible. After some deep thought and multiple trials of testing, a couple structures were already withstanding the weight of the book!
To explore the principles of aerodynamics and flight, we instructed the kids to design and construct a rocket. With just a straw, a rubber band, some paper triangles, and a few other simple materials, students were able to build their own launchable mini-slingshot rockets. We even went outside to launch the rockets, and a couple rockets would fly across the parking lot everytime!
At the very end, once we set up the MakeyMakey circuit boards, the kids got really excited. MakeyMakeys allow you to easily create a circuit to send commands to the computer. By just pressing a piece of playdoh connected to the board, a command would be sent to the computer to press the space key or arrow key. I saw faces light up as they pressed a piece of playdoh and the space key would go off. Everyone immediately wanted to make their own. All the students quickly caught on and made game pads out of playdoh or other materials, and they didn’t want to leave at the end. “Let me press it one more time! I promise I’ll leave after!” one student said. They thought MakeyMakeys were the coolest thing ever, and asked where they could get their own. They also asked if I could bring the MakeyMakeys next time we headed up to Darrington. The next day, Mrs. Wrenchey gave me the idea of learning how to make inexpensive MakeyMakeys out of wires and circuit boards as a future project idea to bring to Darrington.
In just two hours, we did so many cool activities. But out of all of the fun things we got to do, I think one of my favorite parts of the Darrington-STEM partnership is just being able to sit down and talk with the kids from Darrington. I always get to learn about how different our lives are in some aspects, but also how similar we are at the same time.
Earlier, I asked the students what they liked doing outside of school. Simultaneously, they exclaimed, “Sports!” From basketball to football, the kids just loved going outside. When I said our school didn’t have sports, I saw a couple jaws drop to the floor. One girl wouldn’t believe me. “What do you guys do outside of school then?!” she asked.
Later, we talked about our pets. I got so excited when I learned that every single student at my table had a Golden Retriever. That was probably the highlight of my day (Sorry to all you cat-lovers, but I’m a huge dog person).
Hopefully next time when I visit Darrington, I can bring my ginormous Golden Retriever, Maggie. I bet my dog can become good buddies with the dogs in Darrington, just like how I became good friends with the kids from Darrington.
Sophomore at Tesla STEM High School