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Grade School Kids to Visit the U

March 20, 2006 — The University of Utah’s student body may appear younger than usual March 27-30 as more than 1,700 fifth- and sixth-grade students converge on campus for the College of Engineering”s annual Elementary Engineering Week.

More than 400 students are registered to attend each day of the program, which will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the ballroom of the Olpin Union Building.

News media are invited to cover Elementary Engineering Week, which is not open to the general public.

The event, enormously popular for several years, allows fifth- and sixth-grade students to visit campus and experience first-hand the excitement and challenge of tackling engineering problems.

“We want them to learn a little about engineering at the University of Utah and engineering in general – and to have some fun in the process,” says Caitlin Whitaker, who organizes the event for the University of Utah College of Engineering.

This year’s 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. Elementary 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.

Students from 25 schools in several districts – including Davis, Jordan, Granite and Salt Lake – will attend Elementary Engineering Week this year. This is the first trip to the University of Utah for many of the students participating, and it provides them with an exciting glimpse of higher education. 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.

Thanks to a generous $10,000 gift from ConocoPhillips, cash prizes will be awarded to schools for participating and will be used to purchase math and science teaching tools for the classroom.