Summer course puts young students in motion toward engineering

With their eyes fixed on the roof of Killybrooke Elementary School, students hailing from throughout Newport-Mesa waited for the first egg to fall.

They watched as a jarful of peanut butter was put to the test. A student had cleverly tucked the raw egg inside, hoping the peanut butter would protect it.

Students gasped as the jar slipped from their science teacher's hands.

The egg, buried in the gooey peanut butter, cracked as soon as the plastic jar hit the ground. A peanut butter and egg yolk mixture exploded on a white, concrete wall.

The "egg drop" was one of several activities students took part in during the last day of the Summer Engineering Academy at Killybrooke in Costa Mesa on Thursday morning.

More than 250 Newport-Mesa Unified School District students from kindergarten to sixth grade participated in this summer's engineering-focused academy, said Diana Thompson, the lead science specialist for the district.

In previous years, the focus of the academy was science experiments. This summer, the district decided to spotlight engineering because it aligns with Common Core's Next Generation Science Standards, which the district is implementing this year, Thompson said.

Science specialists, or teachers solely dedicated to teaching science, are only available for students in grades 3 through 6 in Newport-Mesa. However, that doesn't mean that classroom teachers can't weave science instruction into their curricula as well.

The goal of the academy is to get students excited about learning science and provide elementary teachers with the skills necessary to teach a science curriculum in the classroom during the year, Thompson said.

Candee Querantes, a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Newport Beach, decided to teach in the academy this summer to better prepare herself for the new standards, which emphasize tactile learning.

Students respond to the engineering aspect since it provides them with opportunities for more creative learning, she said.

"In the past, science has been textbooks and videos," she said. "Engineering is a lot more hands-on."

Teachers also introduced computer coding into the curriculum this summer, Thompson said.

"The kids don't know they're coding," she said. "They think they're playing a computer game with a cat."

Students completed other engineering-related tasks over the course of the academy, which lasts nearly three weeks, including using spoons, Popsicle sticks and marshmallows to create catapults and construction paper to make paper airplanes and rocket launchers.

Seton Fogel, who will be attending seventh grade at Corona del Mar Middle School in the fall, said his favorite activity was making a catapult out of Popsicle sticks.

"Since I was little, I've liked doing crafts, and this was sort of like a craft project," he said. "It was fun to be creative and build something that worked."

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