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Snapshots from STEAM Camp #2: An in-Depth Picture of the Simple Machines Engineering Challenge

By STEMbassador Samantha Dix

On July 18-21, 2022 I was able to be a part of the 2nd-week Steam Camp where 2nd through 5th graders learned all about coding and engineering. This camp was held at Delran High School where it was run by Ms. Carey and assisted by Mr. Lagay, a third-grade teacher, Mrs. Perrino, a third-grade teacher, Mrs. Bascou, a second-grade teacher, and high school volunteers. This camp consisted of both morning and afternoon sessions. Each morning started with the campers doing a fun activity such as coloring, building, connecting cubes, board games, and many others in order to get their brains warmed up. Then, different grades split off into their respective classrooms where they learned all about a new type of engineering.

Engineering Day 1

I was the volunteer who assisted the third-grade class instructed by Mr. Lagay. This week the campers were to learn all about industrial engineering. The first activity they a took part in was reading a story called Aisha Makes Work Easier. During this story, Aisha learned all about industrial engineers from her brother Malcolm who worked in a potato chip factory. Before Aisha and her cousin Tonya could visit the factory, they had to learn all about the six simple machines that industrial engineers use to make work easier. These machines consist of the lever, inclined plane, pulley, wheel and axle, wedge, and screw. They went around town and found examples of each of these and when the campers heard of an example in the story they were instructed to write it down in their packets. Malcolm also taught Aisha that all engineers must go through certain steps before building their new idea. These steps are to ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Not only could these steps be used to build something in a factory, but they could also be used to help Aisha and her cousin Tonya come up with an idea for their summer project to build something they learned this summer. Campers would also use these steps later in the week when they had to help Aisha find a way to use the six simple machines to get potatoes from the ground to the top of the table. This was to help Aisha demonstrate to her class what it was like in the potato chip factory and how big machines are all just made of multiple simple machines. To finish out day one the campers had their first engineering challenge where they were to use as many materials as possible to make a system that led from one thing to another. This was to replicate an assembly line in a factory. For example, one system would start by rolling a ball that would go through a tube knocking into dominos that fell into another ball that then landed in a cup on the floor under the table.

Engineering Day 2

Day two started with the campers becoming factory workers where they were instructed on how to make folders. The first round was where campers went through the steps shown in the picture above all by themselves. The twist was they only had ten minutes, three rolls of tape, and three staplers to share between the twelve of them. The campers quickly learned that most of their time was spent with their hands raised not working while they waited for materials. The number of workers not working was kept as a tally on the board and when the 10 minutes concluded the class only made seven completed folders. Campers then brainstormed ways to improve their factory. They concluded that they must start an assembly line where one person did each of the steps. Then, they were given another 10 minutes where campers only spent the first cycle not working and concluded with seventeen folders. Day two finished with another assembly line where campers got to make their very own ice cream from scratch. Campers started by washing their hands and wiping off their desks. Using a recipe, campers split off into two teams of six where they used what they learned from the previous action that it is much quicker to work in an assembly line. This is the same conclusion that industrial engineers came to when they were brought into the factory to improve the number of products being made without having the owner buy more materials. Once all the bags were made each camper started to shake their ice cream mixture for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes were over they lined up where we assisted the campers in getting a bowl and spoon. Now came the fun part where campers were able to taste their creations!!

Engineering Day 3

Day three started by having campers learn all about ergonomics, the study of efficiency. They did this by pushing a stack of textbooks across the table with and without pencils under the books to act as a way to make work easier. Once each camper had a turn to push the textbooks both ways they discussed and all agreed that the pencils made the stack easier to push. They went throughout four different stations to test the efficiency of four of the simple machines by lifting a full water bottle. The efficiency of the machine was measured by the number of newtons it took to lift the water bottle. The control element was five newtons which were discovered when we just lifted the water bottle with our hands using the chain attached to the force gauge. The first station was the lever where a Whiffle ball was attached to a traffic cone. Through the ball, a pole was labeled A, B, and C with the force gauge on one side and the water bottle on the other. The campers took turns pulling on the force gauge with the lever in each of the three positions. Throughout this, they learned that it was easier when the longer side was not close to the load (water bottle). The type of ergonomics used was when they had to pull downwards to pick up the water bottle. The next station was the inclined plane where two wood blocks one short and one long were positioned side by side. The campers had to take turns pulling the water bottle up the boards. They found that longboard was easier because the hill was not as steep. The movement they used in this station was pulling upwards. The next station was the pulley where campers took turns using both the single and double pulls pulling on the gauge until the water bottle moved up to the marker on the door. They found that the double pulley was easier because it distributed less weight to the gauge. The type of movement that was used at this station was pulling downwards. The last station was the wheel and axle where campers used the gauge to pull a car without wheels and with wheels. They found that the car with wheels was significantly easier. The type of movement they used here was pulling sideways. Throughout this exercise, the campers concluded that some machines make work easier and others make work harder. Also, if machines are not being used properly they can make work much harder.

Engineering Day 4

Day four started with campers splitting off into groups of three where they drew a card that assigned them one of the four simple machines that they tested the day before. The simple machine they picked was the one they had to include somewhere in their design. They were not limited to just this one machine because as we learned earlier machines are made up of many simple machines. They went through the design process consisting of the five steps they learned earlier in the week from Aisha. Once they were on step four they were then given a variety of materials to allow their ideas to come to life. The groups were given fifteen minutes and after the time was finished they were allowed to test their creations using the gauge to pull the water bottle in their system. They were then allowed to use the fifth part of the design process and improve their design for the remaining five minutes.

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