UMC Links

Engineering an Education for Kids

March 22, 2007 – Some 1,500 fifth- and sixth-graders from 17 schools will erect towers of drinking straws, catapult marshmallows and build clay fish during March 26-29 as the University of Utah College of Engineering hosts Elementary Engineering Week.

“We want to introduce young students to engineering concepts via hands-on activities,” says Deidre Schoenfeld, who organizes the event as the college’s outreach and diversity coordinator. “We hope these fun activities will encourage them to continue studying math and science.”

From 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, March 26 through Thursday, March 29, the students will gather in the ballroom of the Olpin Union Building to participate. More than 375 students from several school districts – including Davis, Jordan, Granite and Salt Lake – will attend each day of this year”s annual event.

Elementary Engineering Week is not open to the public, but news media are invited to cover the event. The activities include:

  • Straw Towers Contest. Students use drinking straws to build towers as tall as possible without collapsing in wind gusts. This activity teaches students about stability, function, material type and safety – principles civil engineers must consider when designing structures. Prizes are awarded for the tallest standing towers.

  • Catapult Contest. Schools bring their own small working catapults to demonstrate and use during the contest. The catapults will launch jumbo marshmallows at a target: an aluminum pie tin set 12 feet from the starting line on the ground. Prizes are awarded to teams that hit the target.

  • Fish Blitz Contest. Clay is used to build a “fish” that is pulled through a tank of water by a weight. Students learn that changing the shape of an object – their fish – will cause it to move more quickly or slowly through the water. Prizes are awarded for both the fastest and slowest fish of each round of the contest and for the entire day.

Elementary Engineering Week is meant to provide an exciting glimpse of higher education to the students, many of whom have never before visited the university. The program reinforces strong positive feelings for education, especially math and science. Students spend the morning learning how engineers solve problems and work in teams. Teachers are eager to participate in this program as it gives them a chance to engage their students in creative, hands-on learning.

As was the case last year, ConocoPhillips provided a $10,000 gift so cash prizes can be awarded to schools for participating and so math and science teaching tools can be purchased for classrooms.