DiscoverE Day makes engineering relevant to youngest learners
Robotic cars, toxic popcorn, and water-bottle rockets are just a few of the fun, hands-on introductions to science and engineering offered to local third through eight graders during DiscoverE Day events on Arizona State University’s Tempe and Polytechnic campuses.
“I think being on campus changed what the students think about engineering,” said Marissa Beaith, a teacher at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa. “Some kids were disengaged at first during the hands-on events because they thought they were too hard,” she explained. “But eventually, with encouragement from the activity facilitators, they started participating and coming up with solutions.”
Beaith’s observation illustrates exactly what DiscoverE Day is designed to do: Introduce engineering concepts in engaging ways early in students’ educational journeys. For example, one exhibit particularly loved by Beaith’s students was working in teams to move cans of “toxic waste” from one hoola-hoop circle to another using bungee bands. “Pretty soon, they were coming up with original ideas and working together,” she said. One of her students, Omar Leal, claimed to have eaten the toxic popcorn because he wants to be Spider-Man. “Well, not really,” he ultimately admitted with a grin while his teammates giggled.
Student volunteers benefit, too
In its fifth year, DiscoverE Days attracted more than 1,000 students from dozens of area schools, providing them with an afternoon filled with hands-on, interactive projects orchestrated primarily by Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering students, who volunteer to staff the activities.
“The students are incredibly intelligent and open to learning,” said Lauren Brunacini, a mechanical engineering master’s student. “I do outreach to local schools and it’s been great to see some of those kids here today.”
Brunacini and fellow Daedalus Astronautics student organization member Brian Chang, a mechanical engineering junior, staffed a booth that introduced students to rockets. “They think every rocket is some kind of nuclear device,” he explained, “so we spend time talking about different kinds of rockets.”
Sixth graders from Shumway Elementary in Chandler arrived at DiscoverE Day with ideas already in mind about what they wanted to learn — many of them thinking about computer engineering careers. Kyran Renner wants to develop software like his dad, who works for Shutterfly, and Matthew Jorgenson wants to work in IT, “maybe someday at ASU!”
Cesar Ramirez said he loves to draw, and wanted to learn about graphics software. Fortunately for Cesar, he had the opportunity to visit with Prof. Yoshihiro Kobayashi who, aside from being a lecturer for Computer, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, hosts popular game design summer camps at ASU for middle and highschoolers. “I love speaking to students about computing,” he explained. And, DiscoverE Days provide an opportunity for Kobayashi’s college students, like senior Jakub Booker, to introduce the games they’ve designed to an enthusiastic audience. “It’s great to see kids playing our games,” said Booker.
Shumway’s Noelia DeLaCruz, on the other hand, declared she’d gotten “an ‘A’ in math and I love science and water,” so she’s thinking hydrolic power may be be her choice.
Amazing Introduction to Science and Engineering
For Hartford Elementary teacher Monique Jaffe from Chandler, it was a first-time visit to DiscoverE. “It’s been an amazing, wonderful introduction to science and engineering,” she said. “The students were split up into groups, so when we get back to the classroom, they’ll share their experiences and write about what they learned.”
Some of the longest lines at the Polytechnic Campus DiscoverE Day activities seemed to wrap around the automotive activities. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja Team let kids take imaginary rides in their off-road vehicles and the EcoCAR3 team took a break from transforming its 2016 Chevy Camaro into a high performance hybrid and used robotic model cars to demonstrate solar versus battery power.
Among the biggest attractions were the “real” cars: A 2017 Nissan GT-R and a 2017 Infiniti Q60. Students stood patiently in line for group pictures while teachers and parents urged the selfie-takers to move things along so others could have a chance. Jim Atwater from Nissan R&D, who made sure that nobody got too carried away in the car, explained the attraction: “This is the Nissan model they use in [the video game] Grand Theft Auto.” The bigger kids were attracted to the Infiniti with its digital, Direct Adaptive Steering® — an innovation in which there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the car’s actual wheels.
Anthony Dean teaches sixth graders at Whittier Elementary in Mesa, and attended for the second year. “My only complaint last year was that there was not enough time to see everything,” he said, noting a schedule adjustment for this year. “It’s such an amazing exhibit that really gets students interested in science and engineering. I haven’t seen kids this excited since we were here last year.”
Terry Grant, [email protected]
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering