Building engineers at Cardinal Ritter

With steady hands, a team of high school students carefully placed a pack of index cards on top of a tower made only of straws and paper clips, holding their breath to see if it would stand.

For one school day, Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership (ISP) worked alongside Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School to put on a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) challenge.

Kimberly Weaver, ISP engineering educator, led the challenge. “It’s great that this build involves all the teachers,” Weaver said. “STEM really does involve everyone, not just science and math teachers.

Students were grouped into teams, and then given only two paper clips and three straws for experimentation and brainstorming. The teachers challenged them to build a tower 45 centimeters in height that could support the weight of three packs of index cards.

Students from Cardinal Ritter Prep gather on the floor, constructing their final tower.

Before the students could receive any more paper clips or straws to help build their tower, each group had to create a design and bring it to their teachers for a design review. Only after the teachers approved the design could the students move forward with the build.

As time wound down, each group scrambled to put the finishing touches on their towers.

“It was amazing to see every student at the school engaged in an engineering project,” Weaver said. “The teachers told me that they saw kids that never participated in class excited to take on the challenge. Events like this one reach students who feel left out of traditional classroom activities.”

At the end of the build, several students and teams were awarded for their winning towers and exceptional work. But all the students walked away with experience in four important areas: teamwork, executing complex work, following directions and being timely.

Principal Michael Blackshear said that as Cardinal Ritter Prep prepares its students for the future, the four skills highlighted by the build day are those that almost every potential employer will be looking for.

Blackshear said that he hopes that these STEM skills can be better incorporated into the classroom and that these build days will become a regular event at the school.

June 2015   |   by, Gennafer Barajas

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