If you want to feel like a slacker, sit down and chat with the kids in Wallace Elementary’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Club. Your first challenge will be getting the energetic fourth, fifth and sixth graders to sit down long enough for a chat.
The students were one of nine teams nationally to win the Chain Reaction Challenge created by Garver USA, a national engineering firm. The only elementary team in the nation with the chutzpah to give the contest a try, much less win its top prize – the kids were charged with putting together a chain reaction machine using Garver’s tool kit of dominoes, pulleys and marbles.
You may view video of the chain reaction here.
“Our kids decided to have a theme – they’re so creative, I love it – using the Twister board game,” Wallace Elementary Principal Frank Patranella said. “One student starts by putting her right foot on yellow, and that sets off a chain reaction.”
“We invited over 100 schools to participate, and 50 middle and high schools did,” said Ed Keenan, the Garver project manager and Wallace parent who presented the kids with a trophy and a check for $1,000. “No other elementary school competed. We’re so proud of these kids. Wallace came out on top.”
Wallace librarian Judy Boone, who coached the team with fellow teachers Michelle Krejci and Erica Hoyt, said using the Twister game was sixth-grader Lillian Nieman’s idea. Nieman, though, was quick to give credit to her teammates.
“The project was a group collaboration,” she said. “We all worked together and talked to each other to make sure each segment worked and connected.”
Megan Mars, also a sixth grader, admitted students in the group didn’t begin as “best friends,” but they learned to work together to tackle the problem in new ways.
“Everybody being different helped us come up with different ideas,” Mars said. “If everyone was exactly the same, you wouldn’t have as many different chain reaction (segments).”
Fourth-grader Jackson Smith already knows he wants to major in zoology and become a game warden. Working on the chain reaction, he said, provided bigger lessons about problem solving – and life.
“You have to think about it,” he said, “and when it works, it makes you feel good. When you mess up, you try again until you get it right.”
Luke Woodard, also in the fourth grade, admitted the best part was working with his teammates.
“The night we got to stay late at school and build everything with our friends was the best part,” he said. “Mixing with different age groups helped, because we got a variety of ideas. Sixth graders think differently because they’ve been living longer, but maybe younger kids have more creativity.”
Sixth-grader Bo Richardson was willing to give STEM Club a try, even though he figured an elementary school team had no chance of winning.
“One thing about team activities,” he said, “is some kids are good at technology, some at engineering, some at math, some at logic. The teamwork was the critical part. We all had each other’s backs and encouraged each other, and here we are now.”
The night before the group filmed the chain reaction, fifth-grader Breck Harrison accidentally knocked over a wall of dominoes. At that moment, he hoped he’d never see another domino as long as he lived. The next day, he was ready to try again.
“I learned to have patience I didn’t know I had,” admitted Harrison, who said the group created a “crying corner” to handle such setbacks. He’s back, now, to enjoying dominoes. “I think I just needed a break from them.
Dylan McCoy, a sixth grader, said he aims to become an engineer after heading off to junior high next year, and the chain reaction challenge showed him his goal is attainable.
“I really liked working my brain hard,” McCoy said. “I loved figuring out why things work and how to make them better.”