A fifth grade language arts teacher and Engineering Club director at Fort Rucker Elementary School has been selected to pilot an afterschool engineering program, Engineering Adventures, for the nationally renowned Engineering is Elementary with the Boston Museum of Science.
Suzi Hilton is thrilled to be selected to bring the EiE curriculum, the nation’s leading engineering curriculum for first through fifth grades, to the school.
“The curriculum is packed with phenomenal, engaging, project-based engineering activities that inspire students in the areas of engineering and design,” said Vicki Gilmer, principal. “To produce great engineering activities for kids, EiE uses a rigorous design cycle that involves field testing, evaluating, and improving lessons and challenges.”
Hilton will be an active participant in the Engineering Adventures Curriculum Development, with Gilmer saying it is an honor to have her afterschool program be a part of this nationwide, research-based field test.
Hilton helped further the science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiative at FRES by starting the afterschool Engineers Club, continued Gilmer. And now the club has been selected to pilot a unit for EiE.
“(Hilton’s) program was selected as an EiE pilot based on her tremendous contributions to STEM and by her tremendous depth of knowledge in the field. She wrote a detailed essay to be considered,” said Gilmer.
Students use the engineering design process – define the problem, do background research, specify requirements, brainstorm solutions, choose the best solution, do development work, build a prototype, test and redesign – to create experiments working with density, strength of shapes, measurement, gravity, weight, volume, magnetism, flight, pressure, balance, mass, salinity and other variables.
Allen Flores Diaz, sixth grader, said he loved the club because it allowed him to build and design.
“I wanted to get hands-on experience by building rockets and other things. It was really fun and I hope I get to do it again,” he said.
Dominic Combs, also a sixth grader, said that the club not only allowed him to meet new friends but helped him to bring out the best in himself.
“I liked the competition between us all to make the best experiment. Creating new things was really great. I want to be an inventor someday, so this club is right up my alley,” he said.
Many of the students said they preferred working alone and that working in groups was the hardest part about the club.
“I loved the challenge of us all trying to work in groups, but it was great when it all came together,” said Riley Little, fifth grader. “It’s hard to all agree, and if you want to do something you have to have everyone’s OK to do it.”
Harmon West, fifth grader agreed.
“It was hard to get all of your partners to agree on the challenge on what you were going to do. We all had great ideas, but it’s hard to pick which one is the best and admitting that someone else has a better idea than you do,” he said.
Every nine weeks, a new batch of students is chosen to participate in the club because of its high demand, with most students wanting to be a part of the program all year long.
“I loved finding new and different ways to build things. I like building things and I like art, and engineering is using both of those things. It enhanced my creativity and helped build my imagination,” said Angelina Rils, fifth grader.
The EiE unit will build on what FRES has already created with its Engineer Club.
The club was selected to pilot the aeronautics unit, something Hilton said was probably not a coincidence.
“We are a fairly new engineering program, but we are a really good one … and EiE is looking for children who want to participate,” said Hilton. “In my application, I spoke about Fort Rucker being a helicopter training installation, and the students will be really interested in learning more about flight because that is what their parents do. It is the perfect fit for us, and I cannot wait to start the unit the last nine weeks of school.”
The unit, said Hilton, will take students through different types of flight experiments that deal with different types of crafts, gliders, hovercrafts and whirligigs. They will be working with wind tunnels, the concepts of lift and other aspects of flight.
They will have challenges through the entire course with constraints and scenarios. At the end, they will have to take everything they learned from the smaller experiments to accomplish a larger one.
“The whole reason we teach engineering is because there is not a whole lot of interest in it because kids are scared of it. We want them to see what it really means to be an engineer because we want to prepare them for the future, which is all about technology,” she said.
“We are preparing them for the 21st century job fields,” Hilton continued. “If we show them that these career paths are fun and interesting, when they get to be in college they won’t be afraid to choose them because they think it will be too difficult.”
The club meets for an hour once a week after school, but with the EiE unit Hilton thinks they might have to meet twice a week, something she thinks the students would be happy about.
“The children beg to come. They hate it when the class is over. They are rushing through the door each day to get started. It is encouraging to see,” she said. “They are learning advanced concepts without realizing they are learning complicated techniques.”
Although the class is only piloting the unit for nine weeks, Hilton is allowed to keep it and use it again at her discretion.
Hilton hopes to be chosen again to pilot another program and plans to reapply soon.