Fifth-Graders, a Jet Toy, and What If

Auburn Elementary Fifth-graders team-up with Engineers to consider “what if?”

The Auburn Elementary fifth-graders looked nervous at the onset of the mock press conference for the unveiling of the proto-type they had designed and constructed under the guidance of seven automotive engineers from FCA US LLC. The students were one team out of more than a dozen to present the Jet Toy they had created out of construction paper, plastic wheels, a nozzle, some tape and a balloon through a classroom learning experience called A world in Motion. 

Founded by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), A World in Motion, has been partnering with schools around the US and Canada for more than 25 years. Their goal is to bring STEM disciplines into the classroom in a way that students can connect them to the real world. For Auburn Elementary principal BJ McCabe, A World in Motion is the perfect match for the curriculum as well as for the elementary school classroom. “It complements the projects –based, real-world context learning that is at the heart of our curriculum,” he said.

Two Auburn Elementary students consider what if with FCA US LLC engineer, Andrew Joseph

Two Auburn Elementary students consider what if with FCA US LLC engineer, Andrew Joseph

Avondale School District Students study their World in Motion

Mike Hartrick is one of the FCA US engineers who volunteered to bring A World in Motion projects to Auburn Elementary. He sees the value of teaching the students about science, technology and mathematics as well as showing them the real-world applications of the lessons. “It begins with working with the students on their understanding of force and motion, including Newton’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd laws of motion,” Hartrick explained. “Once we begin construction of the Jet Toy – or “car” – and after we test it, modify it, and retest it, the lessons advance beyond the science and methodology. At that point, the students are experiencing what real engineers go through when they design and test and modify in the real-world setting of design and manufacturing.”

After the lesson about the laws of motion, the engineers lead the students through building a chassis for their “car” and then construction of their balloon/nozzle motor. “We review force and motion principles and then the students attach the motors and begin testing their cars,” said Hartrick. The first round of testing, which measures the effects of different nozzle sizes and mass added to the car, is done with computer simulations and allows for the engineers to engage the students in a discussion of “what ifs?”

Olivia Jackson and her teammate Sarah Siddiqui wondered, “What if we use a smaller nozzle that weighs less? Maybe the car will go faster.” When the students tested their theory, they found that it didn’t go faster but they now had the opportunity to discuss with the engineers why it didn’t go faster. Opportunity for that type of conversation and interaction between the students and the engineers was prevalent throughout the weeks it took to bring the students concepts of a car to reality.

No more so than during the mock press conference when after the students presented and talked about their car for a few moments, they fielded questions from the audience. Hartrick and his colleagues and even several students challenged each student team to reflect on their final product and consider “what if.”

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