Voices

Education in motion: Hands-on experiments teach STEM concepts

Maya Heissenbuttel, a teacher at North Pines Middle School, spent a week this summer in Washington D.C. at a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fellowship sponsored by the Siemens Foundation and Discover Foundation. She's taking what she learned and putting it to use in the classroom. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Maya Heissenbuttel, a teacher at North Pines Middle School, spent a week this summer in Washington D.C. at a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fellowship sponsored by the Siemens Foundation and Discover Foundation. She's taking what she learned and putting it to use in the classroom. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

In Maya Heissenbuttel’s science of technology class Monday, seventh-grade students were making videos demonstrating Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. The team of Kaleb Sabota, Jaymon Manzie and Elizabeth Tyler set up ramps and rolled balls of different masses – tennis ball vs. baseball, golf ball vs. ping-pong ball – down the ramps and timed how long it took. The balls rolled down the ramp and hit a row of dominoes while the students timed it.

“The size is the same, but the mass is different,” Tyler said.

The experiment demonstrated Newton’s second law: Force equals mass times acceleration.

The assignment at North Pines Middle School is one Heissenbuttel came up with after participating in a science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – fellowship in Washington, D.C., this summer. The fellowship was sponsored by the Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education.

“I learned so much,” Heissenbuttel said. One of the key strategies she learned about is the flipped classroom, based on a theory that kids learn better when they have to teach something.

After discussing Newton’s three laws, the students picked the one they thought was the most important – Heissenbuttel said there was no right answer, but students had to be able to explain why they picked the one they did.

They broke into groups and filmed an experiment of that law.

“They come up with them all on their own,” Heissenbuttel said.

Students will apply Newton’s laws as they make carbon dioxide racecars. They will design cars using an AutoCAD program, and will be looking for ways to reduce air friction and make the wheels run smoother so that the car runs faster. Heissenbuttel said there is a fix for the wobbly wheels, but she doesn’t tell the students about it.

“I always wait until they ask me for it,” she said.

Heissenbuttel was one of 50 teachers selected to attend the Siemens STEM Institute in August. She said after attending the program, she feels the need to involve the community and parents more to help push forward the idea of STEM.

Heissenbuttel said STEM is important because it gives students a better understanding of how the world works. She knows not every student will go into a STEM-related field when they grow up, but the hands-on learning students are doing now can be applied to the real world.

The science of technology class is the second in three Gateway to Technology classes at the school, the middle-school version of Project Lead the Way, a hands-on, project-based program. The sixth-graders learn how to use AutoCAD and the eighth-graders study automation and robotics.

Cody Mowry, 13, talked about using his skateboard to demonstrate Newton’s third law, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When he was riding on his skateboard, he scooted up to a wall and used his hands to push off and move the opposite direction.

“The wall pushes me back,” he said.

Heissenbuttel said it is sometimes difficult for students to picture this in class – so she explains that when they jump up in the air, they are using the force of the ground to propel them up. When you jump, you don’t push your feet up, you push them down.

“They jump up and down a lot,” she said.

For Sabota, Manzie and Tyler, they discovered that objects with less mass accelerate faster. The baseball traveled down the ramp in 0.91 seconds, the tennis ball in 0.69 seconds. The ping-pong ball proved to be a problem, however.

“It’s lighter,” Manzie said. “It took longer to knock the dominoes down.”



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