While everyone out is freaking out because their 20 credit schedule is beginning to attack them (see: http://blogs.olin.edu/studentblog/2014/04/the-dreaded-twenty-credit-semester.html), I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the cool stuff I've been doing with one of the clubs at Olin.
EDisco is, surprisingly, not a club where we do disco dancing or play frisbee. (Though, that would be kind of fun...)
Engineering Discovery is a club at Olin for education outreach in the K-12 space. If you know nothing about this, don't worry because I'm about to tell you.
The K-12 space is a really great place to work in and do research right now. There is tons of opportunity and a new movement toward integrating engineering and other hands on activities into the K-12 environment. Let's be honest, everyone's favorite activities when they were a kid were the ones where you got to actually do things.
Anyway, in eDisco we basically meet a lot as a huge group at the beginning of the year while everyone tries to figure out what activities they want to do, and what fits into their schedule. After that, we break off into small groups doing outreach in different places.
This semester, I took charge of an activity in collaboration with JFK Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, a multicultural and diverse neighborhood in Boston.
I was extremely nervous at first, but Kathy Wright, the 5th grade teacher we were working with, made my job really easy.
Week 1: Consumerism
The first week, the Kathy designed an activity so that we could focus on getting to know the kids. Cecelia, Jess, and I worked with groups of 5th graders turned "consumers." Using vocabulary words, the groups came to a consensus about which version of a product was the best. For example, they had four lunch boxes, and they decided which was best based on cost, durability, insulation of hot/cold, and aesthetics.
The hardest part of all of it was remembering their names. They all have insanely cultural and really cool names... that are really, really hard to remember i.e. Jeysa, Cheyris, Jael, Idalis, Jonahira...
Week 2: User Oriented Design
The second week, we actually designed curriculum for them. We decided to try user-oriented design on them, and we chose Kathy as our user.
It was like suddenly all of the creativity these kids were not tapping into in a normal classroom setting came pouring out. They designed everything from noise-canceling headphones to cushions for the legs of their classroom chairs. They prototyped their designs with basically the whole eDisco stockroom, things like paper plates, pipe cleaners, plastic cups, cotton balls, etc.
An interesting thing I noticed was how much they identified with their home-life cultures. When asked "where are you from?" I don't usually answer Caddo Nation or Germany, but when I asked these kids, inevitably their answer was "the Dominican Republic," or "Puerto Rico," even if they had never lived there.
Week 3: Working Prototypes
The third week we did another design activity with them, with a focus on working prototypes. They had to design something to get a key out of the bottom of a coke bottle. We used it to segway into E&M. We let them do the activity first with a magnetic key ring on the key, and they almost all used magnets. It took them all about 10 minutes to make a prototype to get the magnetic key out. When we took the key ring off, the activity became much harder and it took most of them the rest of class to do.
For those who finished early, Cecelia challenged them to use clothespins to pick up the key. This is shockingly hard to accomplish, and Jess spent two hours making her own prototype with clothespins.
Week 4: E&M
We did E&M with them for week 4. I have to say, I think it was the most successful.
We first taught them about static electricity by rubbing a balloon on our hair and then picking up iron shavings. With the same shavings we then showed them magnetic fields by placing a magnet under the plate holding the shavings.
Next, we talked about closed loops in circuits by having them hook up a lightbulb to a battery. Then, we pulled out a bunch of random materials and tested conductivity and magnetism. They learned that not all things that conduct electricity are magnetic, and vice versa.
Finally we showed them motors. We showed them a big motor that looked like a fan, and we showed them Cecelia's modcon project which had both motors and LEDs.
Some of the most fun was how excited they got about what happens when lightning strikes your car.
Cecelia almost cried when Joselyn came up and told her, "Maybe one day I'll go to college and invent things like you."
Week 5: Rube Goldberg
We did Mechanical Engineering by having the kids make Rube Goldberg machines.
The first class was disappointed because almost none of them completed the activity. We noticed that the only group that did finish was the one who had only one mentor working with them directly, so for the second class we adjusted and each of us worked with one group.
Week 6: Materials Science
I was really sick this week, and I didn't attend, but I know that the kids worked with Gold Nanoparticles, Magic Sand, and Nitinol wire. They learned about waterproofing, flexibility, and durability.
Week 7: Final Project
To incorporate everything we learned, we had them design water turbines as their final project.
We gave them a large motor, and they had to design an attachment that would allow the motor to spin fast enough when water was poured on it that it lit an LED.
Overall, JFK was an amazingly rewarding experience.
The kids were allowed to come to engineering if they did all of their homework and behaved for the whole week. As a result, the kids worked really hard to do both. Mrs. Wright said she saw an improvement. Some kids who never did their homework suddenly did. One kid tried to stay in school even when he was throwing-up sick because he wanted to go to engineering.
Six of the girls in the class decided to enter Raytheon's Make It Better contest.
So today, on our final day, we were all really sad to leave. But all of the hugs and art we got made us really happy.
I especially loved that Jonahira, who didn't seem all that interested in engineering each week, went out of her way to draw us a thank you note.
So basically, join eDisco.