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Engineering blows through Beverly Woods

Local engineers partner with CMS to promote STEM in schools

by Morgan Smith

Fourth-grade students at Beverly Woods Elementary School line the hallway in preparation for their puff mobile race. The students experienced mechanical engineering, with help from local engineers, by designing and creating their own cars using only five materials. (Morgan Smith/SCW photo)

Students at Beverly Woods Elementary School learned last week it only takes creativity and persistence to be an engineer.

And with the help of local engineers – using only three straws, four lifesavers, a sheet of paper, two paper clips and tape – fourth graders at the school used their imaginations to build cars that move by just a puff of air.

“They are building puff mobiles,” Marni Cartiff, math and science facilitator at the school, said.  “It’s really a lot of trial and error and testing their design to determine what they can do best to make the vehicle move.”

Cartiff was contacted several weeks ago by Cindy Moss, director of math and science for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, who told her Beverly Woods, along with two other CMS schools, would have a special presentation for Engineering Week this year. As part of the week, community engineers organized by the Society of Women Engineers would come into a third or fourth grade classroom to promote engineering.

“Typically an engineering group will contact us,” Moss said, “They develop some type of lesson plans and we help them with what they’re doing and tweak their plans a bit.”

Moss said she picked Cartiff and Beverly Woods for the experience because of the school’s focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We know our teachers and we knew Marni would really take it and run with it,” Moss added.

Represented at the school were engineers from organizations like the Charlotte Area Transit System, Areva, Siemans Energy and the city.

Rose Mary Seymour, an agricultural engineer who now teaches at Central Piedmont Community College, said she volunteered to go into the schools for Engineering Week because the students are vital for the future of engineering.

“We know we need to start here in getting kids interested… in making things, being creative and learning math and science,” Seymour said. “ All of those things (will) allow them to become engineers. We want them to become interested in those things as soon as possible and here in elementary school is where that has to start.”

The Society of Women Engineers believes promoting  STEM in children is best done through active learning, Seymour said.

“Let them be creative, let them think for themselves, not tell them what to do, but figure out what they can do,” Seymour added. “And along with it, really give them a feel for what engineers do because a lot of people and kids don’t really know what we do.”

The students, after constructing their cars, were able to race them down the hallway – down on hands and knees, blowing with full force, one puff at a time to see how many blows it would take to make the cars travel six feet.

But not every car was a success.

“I tried to blow it, but I think I made it too heavy because I put too much tape on it,” fourth-grader Quinn Castner said. “If I did it again, I would really look at the materials and see what I really needed.” Quinn said next time, his puff mobile would be much lighter… with less tape.

“I just made mine light so it would go pretty fast, but it wasn’t going forward because of the tape I put on the wheels,” fourth-grader Brynn Martinson said. Brynn tweaked her mobile several times before coming up with a final product, fully equipped with less tape and a sail.

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