On February 13th, the Shorewood Recreation Department's Gravity Cruisers course culminated in an open house. Students were able to show off their designs, answer questions about the building process and--to everyone's enjoyment--race their vehicles. This is the first time the course was offered, but based on the enthusiasm displayed by participants, it won't be the last. When discussing how the course came to be, Recreation Department Director Deb Stolz stated, " Milwaukee School of Engineering reached out to us to see if we'd be interested in offering a World In Motion course during this school year. The MSOE students receive grant money to support their MSOE Club when they volunteer their time, knowledge and experience. As always, I very rarely turn down an offer to offer programming for our students." The course proved to be a win for all involved.
World In Motion (WIM) courses are part of an SAE International initiative that provides engineering learning opportunities to K-12 students. The Gravity Cruiser course is designed for students in grades 4-6. Shorewood's course was taught by MSOE students Josh Boyce and Matt Rogers. During the course, students were given a kit to create a gravity-powered vehicle. The course met twice a week for five weeks and during that time, students learned about everything from basic engineering principles and data collection to energy conversion. Students experimented with different wheel sizes, levers, and weighting to see how these elements affected their final product. The course was a natural fit for the District. The hands-on, exploratory nature has much in common with Expeditionary Learning and Project Lead the Way. When asked about the concepts explored in the course, Boyce stated, "While the STEM related concepts the students learned will be helpful in their future studies, the problem solving skills they developed in the course are something they'll be able to apply anywhere, whether in school or outside of the classroom."
Ariel Higgins, a Lake Bluff fifth grader, signed up for the course because she loves science. Rita Higgins, Ariel's mother, explained how " [Ariel] likes anything that teaches her how to build stuff" and noted that Ariel "always came home talking about what she was working on." Vince Musante, an Atwater 6th grader, also participated in the course. His cruiser had a particularly unique design reminiscent of a Jeep. When asked about it, Musante said that he was "thinking that [he'd] make a bus and then the license plate looked like a jeep so then it got turned into a jeep." The individuality of each cruiser was the most surprising aspect of the course for Boyce. "They came up with ways to construct their vehicles that I never would have thought of, and they all added their own unique twists to their designs. Overall, I was really impressed with the creativity that the students showed."
The parents, staff, and community members at the open house agreed. Creativity has long been celebrated and cultivated in the Shorewood community. The Gravity Cruisers course showed students its value in relation to science and engineering. Vince and Ariel are hopeful that more courses like this will be offered and Deb Stolz indicated the Recreation Department would love to offer the course again next year.
(Article written by Becki Pavesich)