Rollingstone students Mya Roellich (right) and Kathryn Girtler debate how to create their prototype.
by LAURA HAYES
Is it possible to invent an item that can separate leaves from acorns? On Thursday, Rollingstone students donned their thinking caps, rolled up their sleeves, and created inventions to do just that as part of their monthly Engineering Day.
The Engineering Day takes place once a month. The project has been going on for years, but after a one-year hiatus, Engineering Day has returned to Rollingstone. Teachers believe there are numerous benefits the program provides — multiage learning, working in groups, and hands-on education. “Engineering these days is such a hot topic … Kids learn in a different way than they used to, and hands-on experience is so valuable to students, especially [for those in kindergarten through fourth grade],” third grade teacher Heather Reilly explained.
The themes of the projects are usually based on the seasons or upcoming holidays. For example, in December the students will build a present parachute and in February they will construct a sled. First grade teacher Barb Rahn remembers one project where students walked around the school and looked for areas of improvement. “Our tomatoes were falling on the ground in the garden,” she recalled. That Engineering Day, students were tasked with creating a tomato stand to hold up tomatoes, and a parent created the winning invention for the school’s use.
With Halloween wrapping up last week, this Engineering Day was fall-themed.
“We’ve noticed out on our playground that we have tons of leaves and tons of acorns, but we can’t always separate the two,” Reilly said. Some of the students gather acorns during recess and bring them into the classroom. “As we’ve tried to teach them, the squirrels save the acorns for winter,” she explained.
All of the students gathered into the music room where the staff introduced the project. The students reviewed the engineering process — asking a question, imagining solutions, planning, creating, and improving on their invention. The students were given several goals: their tool had to be able to gather the leaves, the acorns had to end up on the ground, and students couldn’t touch the leaves or acorns.
But how they created the invention was completely up to them. “We hope the students really start to understand the process of being an engineer. We want them to understand the real-world thinking that goes into being an engineer and how to genuinely solve problems using materials that they might have around them,” Reilly said.
The materials were everyday household items — toilet paper roles, plastic food containers, wire, and egg cartons, for example. The students were divided into groups, and each group contained students of different grades. With the school’s combined grade levels, Rollingstone students are no stranger to multi-age learning.
The students had around an hour to create, test, and improve their prototypes. They created a variety of ways to solve the problem. One group created a rake out of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners, while another group taped two cups together and poked holes in the cups for the acorns to fall through. “I love watching the kids work together,” Rollingstone Principal Dawn Lueck said. Some students step up and lead the group, and the older kids help the younger ones. “It’s a great community feel,” she said.
Lueck said the teachers created the theme and lesson plans over the summer. “It’s very thorough,” she said. Currently, district administrators are working on a plan to implement STEM in all elementary schools by the 2019-2020 school year. “Because all of the schools will have that STEM approach, this will be perfect curriculum,” Lueck said.