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SpectrUM Discovery Area offers hands-on learning to students at Daly Elementary

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The fifth grade students at Daly and Corvallis are learning how to think by learning the process of invention; design, problem solving, creativity, math, science, physics and persistence.

Nicholos Wethington is the museum coordinator of the spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science museum through the University of Montana. He teaches in the local schools one day each week thanks to funding from The Martin Family Foundation.

“They are supporting me to come each week to teach the entire fifth grade about making and tinkering,” Wethington said. “‘Making & Tinkering’ is a broad area and a mindset of being resilient and trying different ideas, building prototypes, having them fail, learning from those mistakes and trying again.”

Wethington said rather than teach the specifics of how to make something, he taps the ingenuity of students.

“A lot of what I do is give a general template of things that will help them be successful but let them design and engineer things the way they think it should be done,” he said. “If it doesn’t work I’ll inquire about how they might change their design to make it work better. I’ll give some general problem solving suggestions then give them the space to do it on their own.”

Wethington said makes a quick prototype as an example but expects students to invent their own.

The goal of this project was to make the fastest ship to zoom along a zip line (fishing line between two poles). Using hot glue guns, students made ships from popsicle sticks, construction paper and rubber band powered propellers. They used paperclips to hang the ship securely on the zip line.

“I wanted to do something with flight but airplanes are overdone,” Wethington said. “When they get something like this with a propeller the aeronautics aspects of it is tricky. They learn about flight and propulsion.”

After designing a ship and winding the large rubber band, students launched their ships on the zip line. They timed the travel with a stopwatch, measured the distance and then calculated how fast it zipped in miles per hour. Students learned about the correlation between speed, weight and aerodynamic shape.

“They make them, test them out, modify them, try again,” Wethington said. “They take off weight, make it longer and learn how to overcome the frustrations they have had. I haven’t had any meltdowns.”

Wethington said science and kids are what spectrUM is all about.

“This is our first foray into a long standing relationship with schools,” he said. “We have traveling exhibits that we take to schools but I’ll be in these classrooms every other Tuesday, all school year. Future lessons include coding, computers, developing software, robots, photography, light play, forced perspective photography. We focus on STEAM adding the art into science, technology engineering and math.”

Daly fifth grade teacher Sara Bramblett said “Making & Tinkering” allows students to experience failure in a positive way.

“We want the kids to have trials and errors and see they need to design, create, test and redesign because it is not going to be perfect the first time,” Bramblett said. “We want them to go through the process.”

She said she wants her students to learn about variables such as weight, length, aerodynamics, and the wind-up, then apply the knowledge to other experiments. Last month the class made go-carts, using the design process and rebuild to make it successful.

“We’ve also made bouncy rockets and looked at how weight contributes to how high something can bounce into the air,” she said. “It is really a great experience for them to be tactile. We have so many kinesthetic learners it is great for them to have that visual understanding of how things work.”

Bramblett said kids have taken their knowledge home to continue applying the concepts and design process with their parents.

“Kids love that concept of design,” Bramblett said. “This provides the resources to us and it is great to be able to make science hands-on exploration with trial and error. It teaches them collaboration; how to share ideas and help each other.


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