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January 5, 2023 -- As Ridgeview Middle School eighth-graders sat down for science class, they gathered some interesting materials.
Wires, magnets, batteries, and paper clips were at each student’s seat in Dara Vanengelenhoven’s class. Teaching that day was a special guest – Dr. Betty Lise Anderson, professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering.
“Today, we are going to use electrical energy to build a very small electric motor,” Anderson told the class.
This lesson is part of a new partnership between Ohio State and Ridgeview Middle School. Once a month, Anderson comes in and guides students through hands-on engineering activities.
“My goal is to make engineering accessible to kids and get them excited about science,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t matter if they become engineers when they grow up. What I want them to do is have these experiences where they build something and say, ‘It works! I did it!’ I want them to build confidence that they can do hard things.”
Ridgeview is one of many schools where Anderson conducts these lessons about three times a week with the help of students and alums. She has even been recognized for this program, recently receiving the Public Service Award from the National Science Board. The K12 Engineering Outreach Program has reached more than 35,000 students at more than 100 schools, libraries, and after-school programs.
Activities are based on grade levels to bring engineering lessons to life. However, there are a few guidelines.
“Projects have to be done in a class period, and we try to use common items or trash as much as possible, like paper clips and old pieces of cardboard,” Anderson said. “We also make it to where kids always succeed because when kids fail, that defeats the purpose.”
The program started this year at Ridgeview in Vanengelenhoven’s class and another eighth-grade science class. Vanengelenhoven has already seen many benefits.
“They look forward to our monthly Ohio State science opportunities,” Vanengelenhoven said. “It’s exciting because they see real-world science, and they can connect to things they are excited about, such as making a speaker or motor. It’s great for us too because we teach all about these concepts at the end of the year. I’m hoping that students will be able to make some wonderful connections through this.”
As students put the finishing touches on their electric motors, they celebrated when the circular wire whirred to life. Many students also helped each other troubleshoot issues. Vanengelenhoven and Anderson love the team-building aspect as well.
“Sometimes, students will see the projects, and they will freak out at first. They say they won’t be able to do it,” Anderson said. “This is my favorite part though. It’s when they build the electric motor, and it works or they help each other until they get it to work. Then, they get excited. I love that aha moment of seeing them build something and get it to work.”