Mendell Elementary – STEM Field Trip (02.23.2021)

Today was our first field trip (of four) of National Engineer’s Week! The Mendell Elementary School, which we’ve partnered with in the past for the Excellence for All’s robotics program (and Nick did his student teaching practicum there), came for a virtual visit – their whole fourth grade (44 students) was in attendance! Sam and Hadeel stepped up and lead the entire day and Maya, Lauryn, and Chris also helped out with breakout rooms and the STEM/college panel.

Sam and Hadeel started by introducing the students to Engineering and the Engineering Design Process. Engineers solve problems – and when the students were asked what kinds of problems they think are important to solve – there was some very global and impactful responses – such as trying to solve homelessness, making cars safer, and dealing with global warming. Afterwards, we jumped right into the “What Is This Thing?” activity, in which students attempt to identify objects and the problem these objects solve.

A couple additional bits of information for certain images. Image 9 is a fish ladder (“salmon stairs”) -> which is designed to allow fish to pass structures that block the flow of water, such as man-made dams. There’s a cool video on salmon ladders here. Another way to move fish across man-made obstacles is using a salmon cannon – literally shooting fish over them. This is often less energy-consuming (for the fish), but is probably terrifying.

Figure 11 shows omni-wheels, which are often used during high school/college robotics competitions to enable robots to easily move in every direction, even in tight spaces. These are also used in warehouse robots as well as some wheelchairs. Figure 13 shows a truck scraping device, more easily identifiable in this picture. Figure 16 is a tunnel boring machine; this particular one was used to excavate the Doha Metro in Qatar, which was finished in 2019. A really informative video about tunnel construction can be seen in this video (the channel has excellent videos related to civil engineering).

After our best guesses at identifying these objects and their purposes, students tried their hand at being civil engineers: designing tall towers using just paper. Many students did not use any tape – which required some creative construction methods. One method that worked well was to crinkle the paper together by twisting it. Folding the edges over onto themselves also worked great. A couple towers also were made by taping multiple towers together – which reminds me a lot of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

Finally, we wrapped up the day with a STEM/College 101 panel, in which the visiting students asked our NU student volunteers questions about college, high school, STEM, or really anything. One thing that stuck with me was Sam’s suggestion for students to “just do it”: to explore your options, seize opportunities as they present themselves, and to broaden your horizons.

Thank you to all volunteers, students, and teachers at the Mendell for making this virtual field trip possible! -Nick

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