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Collaboration in Science is Music to their Ears

Did you know that it’s possible to make a flashlight out of an index card? Fourth graders at Independence Elementary School certainly do. As part of the science curriculum unit on electricity and magnetism, the fourth-grade team of teachers make sure to include hands-on learning to “spark” their students’ interest.

Four independence students with two seniors with their projects

 

When spring rolls around, Independence teacher Jennifer Hall taps into a very special source to revamp her lessons: her son, Jon. “Each spring I call him with questions about generators or (to have) him up my game - but mostly (to ask) questions,” she said.

 

An electrical engineering major, Jon Hall is now part of the graduate program at the Ohio State University. “For the past few springs, I’ve looked forward to talking with my mom about her electricity unit and sharing with her small projects she can do with her class,” he said. This year, his suggestion took the unit to a whole new level.

 

Through Ohio State’s Electrical Engineering Outreach program, Columbus area schools are able to choose from a number of small projects that graduate students bring to their classrooms to help students make. The program is free to the schools, with Ohio State providing all of the materials. “I think it works to foster curiosity in students about the world around them and to help every student see themselves as an engineer,” explained Jon Hall. “We accomplish this by connecting what students learn in class with something they personally built and can hold and be proud of.” Although normally offered only to schools in Columbus, he was able to get special permission to bring the program to Independence.

 

After conferring with her fellow fourth-grade teachers to decide on two projects, a speaker and circuit game, Jennifer Hall was able to recruit not only parent volunteers to help, but 33 Lakota East juniors and seniors who are enrolled in the school’s engineering classes through Butler Tech. 

Three students learning from a senior how to create a project

“These projects directly relate to the state standards for fourth grade science,” noted Independence teacher Susan Smith, referring to making a working electrical circuit and having an understanding of conductors and insulators. “This takes the hands-on experience to a whole new level,” Smith continued. Not only would the students build these projects at school, they would be able to take a working speaker home and explain how they made it to their families. “We get to extend their learning.”

 

“(The speaker project) has a great connection to the fourth-grade electromagnetism topic and I think building a working, real-world object, like a speaker, is especially rewarding for the students,” said Jon Hall. “It’s a great way to connect their class to something they use everyday and (it) captures (a) student’s interest.”

 

On the day of the build, the excitement could be felt throughout the cafeteria, where the students and volunteers collaborated. 

 

“Our students can see that we use the same language as high school and college students,” said Smith. And, it’s an opportunity to plant the seed for the fourth graders that these classes are available to them when they get to high school.

 

Ashley Fohl, a senior at Lakota East, wholeheartedly agrees. “We need more girls (in engineering)!” Fohl, whose father is an engineer, just won at the state Technical Student Association (TSA) competition for the Animatronics category and is now heading to the national event this summer.

 

Fourth-grader Alejandra was excited to have the older students help. “When I found out we were going to make speakers, I was really hyped up because I’ve never made a speaker before. I think it’s really nice to have people who have done stuff like this before to help us out.” 

 

“I was excited to make the speaker because you can hear out of it,” said classmate Caleb. Plus, he thinks having high school students assist with the project is “cool”. 

A student with a cast on working on a project

Senior Ty Parrish, who went to Independence for elementary school, was happy to be back. He recalled that his interest in engineering began during his last year at the school and has continued to grow. “In sixth grade, we built Lego bridges and stress-tested them with engine parts.” He proceeded to take the entry-level engineering classes at junior school through Butler Tech, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now in the engineering capstone class like Fohl, Parrish has also brought home a TSA state title with his team in the Engineering Design Team category.

 

Not only did the speaker project meet the standards for this year’s fourth graders, but it sets the students up for next year when they study sound. Perhaps, even more rewarding, was the collaboration. “It’s kids helping other kids, which is always a great opportunity,” said Independence teacher Jennifer Garwood.

 

Throughout the cafeteria, it was clear that the students couldn’t agree more.