The Sporkstirs, a robotics team of fourth- and fifth-graders at Pine Lake Preparatory School, recently took a competitive finish in the 2014 First Lego League Qualifier, with the development of their Classroom Wind Tunnel Kit.
The assignment for the competition required students to come up with a question on how to improve the learning process in a particular subject.
“Our question was ‘How can we improve how fourth- and fifth-graders in North Carolina learn about aerodynamics?’ ” said fifth-grader Gabe Perri. “We brainstormed what we were all interested in, and it was airplanes and things that fly.”
So the team took investigative field trips to the Penske Wind Tunnel in Concord, the Discovery Place Explore More Stuff Lab and the STEM Education Studio.
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During those trips, Gabe said, team members realized the most effective way for them to learn was hands-on.
“Our solution was a Classroom Wind Tunnel Kit for teachers to use in their classrooms to teach about force, motion and aerodynamics,” Gabe said.
Using just a fan, some dry ice and a model car, the team’s kit is designed to show students first-hand how aerodynamics work.
“The fan works as wind to go over the car, and the dry ice shows how the air goes around the car,” said Michael Johns, a fifth-grade team member.
Although the students said they ran into a few obstacles – such as time constraints – they decided to focus more on what they were learning from the project and less on their actual finish in the qualifier.
“I learned that discovering and mentoring is more important than winning,” said Gabe, whose main role this season was to mentor his fellow team members.
“By mentoring and learning, we put less focus on the score,” he said.
Although the Sporkstirs said they believe what they discover is more important than what they win, they still took a competitive 13th place among 22 teams at the FLL Qualifier in Charlotte on Nov. 15.
The judges called the team “organized, innovative, very engaging and exceptionally imaginative.”
They also left quite an impression on their teacher, Erica Stolzenberg.
“As a fifth-grade teacher, I believe the Sporkstirs went above and beyond to discover how teachers learn,” said Stolzenberg, “as well as what kind of materials we need to have successful and engaging activities for our students.”
“The Sporkstirs’ wind tunnel is a product I could definitely see teachers using while teaching aerodynamics.”
Team coaches at the school in Mooresville, Duane Johns and Nicole Perri, were equally struck by the team’s enthusiasm and effort.
“I was very impressed with the students’ work on this project (and) how involved they became, once we introduced some true hands-on learning,” said Johns.
Perri added, “They had great fun and gained valuable insight for the next season and their future endeavors.”