Once the Pacific Science Center’s Science on Wheels rolled into Elrod Elementary last week, kindergartners through fifth-graders put on their engineering thinking caps.
The school day kicked off with an assembly, followed by hands-on exhibits and workshops where students tried to view their environment from the perspective of different types of engineers.
In the school’s maker space, a fifth-grade class was engaged in a “Material World,” workshop where Science on Wheels Outreach Coordinator Tony Scigliano highlighted the work of materials engineers.
“Look around the room and find something made of plastic,” Scigliano asked the class. “So, materials engineers were the ones who invented plastic and many of the materials you see around you today. Sometimes they invent materials, or study existing materials and try to learn more about them.”
In playing the part of materials engineers, the students first had to wrap their mind around the concept of materials having different properties.
“For instance, I take paper here, it’s flexible, it’s bendy, that’s one of its properties. You’ll notice it’s really lightweight, it floats, that’s one of it’s properties. I notice it’s flat, smooth, that’s another property,” Scigliano said. “It might seem obvious like a no-brainer, but materials engineers do this all the time. They might go a little more in-depth, like does a material conduct electricity? Is it radioactive?”
Students paired off to look through bags containing random materials such as a wooden blocks or a piece of felt and think about what properties they had that might be useful in making something. Putting the objects back into the bags, Scigliano then handed out small plastic cups containing a non-Newtonian fluid. Taking off the lids the students discovered slime.
“It’s slow,” one student said, holding the slime up and watching it droop.
“It’s wet,” another student noted, poking at the blob.
Scigliano taped up three photos of a NASA site, a construction site and a farm.
“You are going to think of a use for slime at one of those locations. Get creative with it,” he said. “Brainstorm with your partner. Step two, come up with a way to test your idea, test your hypothesis like engineers do. Then, you actually have to do the test and I have tools to help you — rulers, rolling pins and washers.”
Fifth-graders Lilly Sacher and Kiersten Koelzer picked the construction site. Koelzer said they were thinking the slime could be used as a putty of sorts to fill a hole in a wood, for example.
Across the way, fifth-graders Ty Mckinzie and RJ Anthony stretched their slime and dropped washers in it. Then, they rolled it out and wrapped it around a film canister. Their idea — using the slime as a packing material in outer space.
“It’s easily molded and it could easily store something inside,” Anthony said.
Mckinzie added, “It doesn’t stick to metal and it doesn’t stick to glass.”
“You can re-use it on different objects,” Anthony continued. “You could stretch it along multiple items.”
Mckinzie added, “After separating it, you can put it back together easily.
While the students shared their ideas, over in the library another fifth-grade class was wrapping up a workshop where they got a peek into civil engineering by building bridges using K’Nex, a toy building system of interlocking pieces. Groups did final weight tests with their bridge designs before dismantling them.
Science on Wheels Outreach Educator Lindsey Prelgovisk reviewed some of the concepts of the bridge-building activity.
“When you redesigned it, what did you tend to add to all your bridges?” Prelgovisk said.
“More structure,” one student said.
“‘X’s, squares and triangles,” another student said and Prelgovisk nodded.
“When you first built your bridge it was made out of this type of shape,” she said holding up a square.
“Watch what happens when I add some force to this,” she said pinching the square until it snapped.
“That broke really easy, but when we added triangles, when we add force to this,” Prelgovisk said holding one up by two corners and squeezing. “That didn’t break did it? So, triangles are one of the strongest shapes that engineers use in building — like the Eiffel tower is all made up of triangles.
“So you guys were able to instantly to figure out the shape we need to use to make our bridges stronger,” she said.
“I want to thank you all so much for being incredible civil engineers with me today,” she added.
Engineering is just one of the programs the Seattle-based Pacific Science Center offers to schools in its traveling Science on Wheels program. Schools may also choose from programs that highlight space, anatomy, geology, physics and math.
“We want to give kids the opportunity to learn and play with materials and understand science concepts in a way that allows them to find it through discovery — a discovery process through the scientific method, Prelgovisk said.”
For more information about the Pacific Science Center’s Science on Wheels program visit https://www.pacificsciencecenter.org/science-on-wheels.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.