GM brings engineering to students

LORDSTOWN – For the past six years, engineers from General Motors in Lordstown have introduced local fourth- and fifth-graders to engineering through a weekly visit at the end of the school year.

Wendell Shaw, one of the six engineers from GM, said the visit includes fourth-graders constructing a skimmer and fifth-graders creating a jet toy powered by a balloon.

Both activities include testing and documenting the distance the skimmer and jet toy moved.

Fourth-grade teachers Dawn Toporcer and Dawn Cameron said the activity enhances their science and math curriculum.

“There is a lot of science and math application when the students build their skimmers,” Cameron said.

“This is exploratory learning involving engineering,” Toporcer said.

Shaw said the fourth-graders test their skimmers, which include a sail on them, by seeing how far they travel on the surface of a table propelled by a small fan.

He said recyclable materials are used for the program.

Shaw said students record in test logs the distance the skimmers travel and any observations they see.

“They each run three tests,” Shaw said noting students learn the area and mass of the sail and ways to reduce friction to help make the skimmer travel further.

The fifth-graders build and tested a jet toy with a balloon attached.

Engineer Michael O’Hara said the program involves a lot of hands-on learning and documenting of trial and error.

O’Hara said after days of practicing, the students did a final presentation and then visited the GM plant their last week of school for a tour.

O’Hara said while the fourth-graders tour the stamping and metal assembling plant areas and see the presses and the welding room materials, the fifth-graders go to the assembly plant where they see the chassis and body of the cars being made.

The students said the activity allowed for much teamwork.

Fifth-grade science and math teacher Christine Kappler said it is ”a great program” where engineers show students what is involved with their jobs and what engineering, math and science skills are needed.

Brandon Baird, a fourth-grader, said you have to make the sail ”just right or it will tip over.”

Fourth-grader Olivia Mooney said the sail’s height is also an important factor.

Kappler said, “This is a hands-on engineering experience where the students are building, testing and rebuilding.”

Shaw said the jet toy powered by a balloon allows students to figure out the average distance the toy travels. Students also determine what size balloon is needed to obtain a certain speed.

“They see what size balloon best fits their speed,” Kappler said.

The engineers said different size nozzles are used for the jet toy. Students determine which nozzle gets the best results.

“This is good for teamwork,” Kappler said.

Kappler said the activity provides students with someone new they can learn and listen to instead of the regular teachers.