Area stu­dents use STEM props to build wind tur­bines

Daily Press - - Front Page - By Jane Ham­mond Staff writer

NEW­PORT NEWS – The dragon perched atop sci­ence teacher Erin Wat­son’s shoulder care­fully watched her stu­dents work.

The sixth-graders from Dozier Mid­dle School like­wise donned dragon-themed items, in­clud­ing shirts bear­ing the school’s scaly mas­cot.

The stu­dents built model af­ter model — four to­tal — in an ef­fort to cre­ate the fastest, most durable wind tur­bine pos­si­ble.

Dozier’s team was one of about a dozen groups of stu­dents from al­most ev­ery mid­dle and high school across the city. Each was com­pet­ing to build the best tur­bine as part of the first en­gi­neer­ing de­sign chal­lenge to in­clude high school stu­dents.

The chal­lenges started in spring 2014. Dur­ing each con­test, groups of stu­dents get a sur­prise task to com­plete with the given ma­te­ri­als and al­lot­ted time. Each is cen­tered around STEM — sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math — con­cepts and held in part­ner­ship with a busi­ness or spon­sor.

El­e­men­tary stu­dents com­pete, too, al­though with some­what less so­phis­ti­cated as­sign­ments. The stu­dents who work on the city-wide chal­lenges are fi­nal­ists from ones pre­vi­ously held in their schools, which are built into the cur­ricu­lum.

“When we talk about build­ing a pipe­line of fu­ture en­gi­neers, it re­ally starts in (prekinder­garten) in New­port News,” Brian Nichols, chief aca­demic of­fi­cer, said as the chal­lenge kicked off. “There’s go­ing to be some stiff com­pe­ti­tion here be­cause there are peo­ple who have been through this process.”

Fri­day’s event was spon­sored by Do­min­ion En­ergy and held in con­junc­tion with the com­pany’s off­shore wind project off Vir­ginia Beach.

Stu­dents had ac­cess to balsa wood, sheets of plas­tic, tape, hot glue, PVC pip­ing and a few other ma­te­ri­als to add to a cen­ter piece that would spin if its blades were prop­erly con­structed.

David Leaf, project man­ager of the

tur­bines at Do­min­ion, served as a judge. He and other sub­ject-mat­ter ex­perts cir­cled the room to an­swer stu­dents’ ques­tions.

“It’s been in­ter­est­ing to see these young minds put these things together and ap­proach things dif­fer­ently,” Leaf said.

The Dozier team — which won the team spirit award for all the dragons and green-and-yel­low ap­parel — first tried a ver­sion with big, wide blades.

It re­fused to budge as it stood in front of a big box fan, the test­ing site for the model, even af­ter dragon head-clad Bray­den Post, 12, trimmed the blades. Wat­son and her dragon ob­served and asked a few ques­tions, but the task of ac­tu­ally do­ing the work fell to the stu­dents.

A few more tri­als pro­duced an­other tri-bladed model, this time with card­board flags, es­sen­tially, that gave it the lift needed to pass the 20-sec­ond judge’s test.

They didn’t score the most points — the top prizes went to host site Gilder­sleeve Mid­dle and Menchville High — but all im­me­di­ately had the same con­clu­sion as to what the day’s big­gest les­son was: team­work.

“To­wards the sec­ond part, we thought we were do­ing good, but then we started kind of get­ting mad at each other a lot,” said Ar­i­ana Lee, 11. “But to­wards the end we fig­ured out how to work together.”


Bray­den Post of Dozier Mid­dle School helps his team­mates as they as­sem­ble a wind tur­bine for the New­port News school’s En­gi­neer­ing De­sign Chal­lenge STEM com­pe­ti­tion Fri­day. Stu­dents across the dis­trict com­peted with pro­vided sup­plies over a two-hour pe­riod.


Pas­sage Mid­dle School stu­dents John Foster and An­drew James take mea­sure­ments of their wind tur­bine de­sign Fri­day.


Lan­don Grimm of Pas­sage Mid­dle School tapes fan blades to his team’s wind tur­bine project dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion.

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