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Students hone engineering, bridge-building skills in district math meet
OXFORD HILLS — Approximately 80 fifth- and sixth-graders tested their science, technology and engineering skills during the SAD 17 math meet at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, January 23.
Nineteen teams of students from Oxford, Norway, Hebron and Paris engaged in an engineering challenge – to design, construct and test a bridge made from marshmallows and uncooked fettuccine in a 15-minute time frame. The materials were donated by Hannaford in Oxford.
"We are trying to give the kids a hands-on project to put into play some of the mathematics of engineering strategies," Kathy Elkins, SAD 17 curriculum coordinator, explained.
The students were challenged to make their bridges the length of one noodle and at least two marshmallows high. Then, once constructed, it had to hold a small toy school bus, with a rock taped to it for weight, for at least 20 seconds without collapsing, said David Stearns, a former SAD 17 math coach, who helped organize the meet.
In conjunction with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) month, the goal of the meet was to get students excited about potential careers in science or engineering, said Elkins.
It was also a way for students to learn teamwork, said Stearns.
Before the challenge, engineer Matt Dieterich from The Louis Berger Group, Inc., an engineering firm in Portland, gave a brief overview of projects he has worked on to help students understand real life applications.
Projects include the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial Reflection Pool, the Gateway Arch, the Statue of Liberty and more.
"There's really cool things you can do when you get involved in engineering projects," Dieterich told the students, giving them hints about certain shapes and structures that give a bridge stability.
Students were also shown a video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that snapped during a heavy windstorm four months after it was built, demonstrating to students what happens "when engineering doesn't go right."
Before building began, Stearns encouraged the students to think about everything they had learned from Dieterich's presentation and incorporate it into their bridge designs.
"We got to get the bus across the bridge," he said, telling the students to imagine water running beneath it.
"This is the first year we have had such a good collaborative effort from a volunteer perspective – from the community, from parents," Elkins said.
According to Elkins, it is the third year OHCHS has held the SAD 17 math meet. The next meet is scheduled for April 12.
Elkins said math meets are a result of collaboration between the school district, TD Bank Community Outreach and an interested parent and are done entirely on a volunteer basis.
Five students from the OHCHS Key Club volunteered their time to help the fifth- and sixth-graders as one of the club's community service projects, Elkins said.
Stearns said the noodle and marshallow bridge projects are a repeat of the district's first math meet. "These kids have never done it," he said. The meet in April will challenge students to complete a similar building activity, he said.
The competition has three rounds – arithmetic, geometry and a team round – and each round includes a five-question worksheet for the students to complete.
"The teamwork and building and math components are what we are trying to emphasize," Stearns explained.
He said students will be asked to reflect upon what they learned so when they participate in the April math meet they will have a better idea of how to apply science, technology and mathematics to the task at hand.
According to Stearns, a few years ago SAD 17 competed in math meets in Portland, but because of the cost to send students there, the district decided to use its resources to organize local competitions.
"We just thought of other bridges in the world and kind of took all the ideas and put them together," said fifth-grader Carter Labossiere, a member of "Team Xenadu," from Harrison, during the building phase.
Of the 19 teams, 11 built bridges to proper specifications that withstood the bus' weight. Stearns told all the students that "with a little bit more planning, I bet the bus would make it next time."
"We are making math applicable," said Paris Elementary School Principal Jane Fahey. "Students are taking the math they learn and making it apply in real life situations.
"It's challenging them to think at a much higher level," she said.