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Elementary students experience engineering

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 4:00 pm

Making an uncooked spaghetti noodle stand can be a little trickier than it looks.

That’s what third graders in Pat Mork’s class at Merrill Elementary School were learning as they constructed towers out of noodles, marshmallows, straws and tape on Wednesday.

The exercise was the second in a series of engineering challenges leading up to a trip to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Engineering 2013 Engineering Expo. Nine students from each elementary school in the School District of Beloit will be eligible to attend the Expo on April 18 in Madison.

Lindsay Passwaters, an advanced learner specialist with the district, has been visiting third grade classes to offer the engineering exercises which encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. She said the engineering project is done every other year in the district.

In February students built tables in 15 minutes out of popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, index cards and tape. The tables had to be 8 to 10 inches tall and comfortable for a Build-A-Bear to sit in and which could hold a book for 10 seconds. Passwaters said the exercises get students to think like an engineer, and to discover how careful planning and teamwork can be critical in building projects or in life.

On Wednesday Passwaters brought her sack of goodies to Merrill to discuss with third graders. She showed the students a video on famous towers around the world and encouraged them to build one in 15 minutes. The tower was to be as tall and sturdy as possible.

Although the last challenge would be in May after the expo, Passwaters hopes to offer one last challenge, making a net out of recycled materials to catch an invasive frog species.

Engineering Expo is a three day event held every two years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Engineering. Expo is run entirely by students and brings over 10,000 visitors to campus biennially. Participants at Expo include Fortune 500 industry leaders, engineering student organizations on campus, individuals displaying their engineering projects and ideas, and thousands of students and members of the community, according to http://engineeringexpo.wisc.edu.

During the first two days of Expo, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools are invited to explore what engineering involves. Each day the event is open to the public and public engagement is encouraged.

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