Students gathered around a trial run of their engineered cart

Students in Justin Brickley’s classroom at Bennett Elementary School burst into a jubilant celebration as their engineered cart rolled down a cardboard ramp and sailed across the classroom until it reached the wall. This cart recorded the maximum distance of all the trial runs conducted, 22 feet.

“We learned that when the cart rolls down the ramp, it's because of gravity,” shared Natalia Walker, third grade student at Bennett Elementary.

Brickley, a science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) teacher at Bennett, hosted STEAM “field trips” for every class at the school. The  third grade class field trip for Robyn Jardel’s students explored the   introductory concepts to physics such as push, pull, friction, potential, and kinetic energy.

The premise of the classroom activity was to have students collaborate with each other in the engineering design process.

“Students needed to design, build, test, and improve a transportation device for a tiny Benny the Bear (our school mascot) figurine,” Brickley said.  “Benny's transportation would go down a ramp and need to safely arrive at the other end of the room for full success. We did include constraints such as Benny couldn't be glued in. Students listed their needed supplies from our lab inventory including specific measurements (e.g. 10 centimeters of purple duct tape). Adults helped students only by using cutting tools for wood and cardboard as well as glue guns.”

The students were divided into groups of three and were tasked with making improvements to their engineered cart after each trial run. They analyzed what went well, and what did not.

“[Our cart] was swerving [it was too light] so we added weights to Benny’s cart in the front and in the rear, so it rolled down the ramp,” explained Macey Cummings.

Adelaide McKinney added, “One of our wheels was hot glued and wouldn’t turn so we took the glue off and used Play-Doh instead.”

“As a STEAM coach on our encore schedule, it is difficult to dive into deep engineering or scientific learning opportunities in the 45 minutes we have available,” Brickley said. “I approached my principal with an idea to host STEAM field trip days which would essentially be extended lab experiences. We would invite parents and community members to be part of the process and enable our students to have truly hands-on learning working their way through the entire scientific or engineering design process.”.

“Mr. Brickley selected standards that need reinforcement based on unit assessment data and planned a complete lab experience to include building background knowledge, hands-on learning, and reflection. Parents are invited to volunteer to support the experience. The families and students love it” concluded Shelley Pohzehl, principal of Bennett.