A group of "Lights ON for Learning" students are focusing on engineering for the next 8 Saturday mornings. According to the Lights On site coordinator at John Deere Middle, Chad Potter, 40 students will be attending classes from 8 am until noon every Saturday until February 26th.
Potter says the students will focus on the process of engineering, "The students will weigh out design options and make choices based on the available materials and their own imagination. They are going to build, test, collect data, and refine. Many of our students start the program with no understanding of how math and science are used to make lives better and more comfortable."
According to Potter the program offers students an opportunity to experience different aspects of the field of engineering through hands-on problem solving activities. Potter says the students will be producing a mousetrap powered race car that will travel twenty five meters. The students will also be creating a technical drawing and a detailed report explaining how it works. The students must also be able to explain how their car works in front of a multi-judge panel.
Bruce Boardman, a retired John Deere engineer and volunteer for the program, says working with the young students is as satisfying as seeing a product he helped design succeed in the marketplace.
Boardman says what the kids will learn each week is a life experience that goes well beyond multiple choice and true/false questions. "While the concept of a mousetrap powered car appears, on the surface, to be simple, it is not. The students need to balance several conflicting design and material considerations. It is an exercise in merging both the art and science of mechanical devices to achieve the best overall performance within a demanding set of rules and criterion for success. It is an exercise where there is no one correct answer - rather there are several solutions from which they must choose."
Caroline Anthony is a former John Deere student who participated in the program last year and was a part of a national winning team. Anthony says science was not her favorite subject before, but now it is. "I think that it would be a good idea for anybody to participate in Saturday Science even if they don't like science because it's fun and it's a great way to meet the most interesting people. We met several amazing engineers who came and helped us with anything that we had trouble with. All of them made it a great experience".
The John Deere Middle Engineering Program is made possible through two grants and the generous donation of time by Deere and Company engineers. John Deere Middle is in year three of a five year 21st Century Lights on for Learning federal grant. This grant funds academic and enrichment programming beyond regular school hours at the school and covers a substantial part of the Saturday Science program. Deere and Company also provides funds making travel, team shirts, and morning breakfast possible. The volunteer engineers work with teams of students each Saturday. The program would not exist without their help.