How far will a hovercraft made out of a CD and a balloon travel? What kind of taste does a cat like more? What type of glue is the strongest?
If you ever asked yourself any of these questions, the students at Oakdale Elementary School in Rock Hill have the answers.
On Tuesday, the school celebrated Oakdale’s Day of Excellence: The STEM Challenge and Recycling Fun Day – an entire day of displays of projects related to science, technology, engineering and math. Parents, administrators and school board members visited the school to see what students have been working on for the past two months.
Oakdale’s entire curriculum focuses on STEM topics, so this year Principal Denise Khaalid and her staff decided to let the students – particularly the older students – take charge of their own education and investigate any topic they chose.
“They were so engaged in what they were doing,” said teacher Laura Norwood of the third- through fifth-grade students, who selected their topics back in February and have been engrossed in them ever since.
Kindergarten through second grade students worked on class projects.
Three full days over the past few months were devoted to completing these projects. After researching their topics, students designed full experiments, conducted those experiments, then created displays, which were judged by teachers.
On Tuesday, they got to present those displays to anyone who wanted to listen.
“Well, cats are my favorite thing, so I wanted to do something with cats,” said third-grader James Hedrick, whose topic was ranked second in his grade.
For his experiment, James wanted to see what taste his cat would like best, so he picked three tastes humans like: salty, sour and sweet. His test subject overwhelmingly picked the sweet flavor of melted ice cream.
“I learned that you’d think cats would like what people like, but they don’t,” he said.
Around the corner, third-grader Dylan Blackmon showed Rock Hill school board Chairman Jim Vining how she made three different balloon-powered hovercrafts out of a record, a CD and a DVD.
While Dylan had hypothesized that the record would travel the farthest, her experiment showed a different outcome.
That’s part of the learning process.
“They had to learn that a hypothesis’ not being proven was not a failure,” Norwood said.
Using regular school hours to prepare the projects put every student on an equal playing field. Teachers and other school staff members bought whatever supplies they needed, Khaalid said. If a student needed eggs, off to the grocery store they went.
Working on their projects in class also brought many students who weren’t excited about school out of their shells, she said.
This was the first year Oakdale used this structure to create these projects, Khaalid said, and they’ll “absolutely” build upon the model and use it again next year.
“Culminating in this (event) this year was a great experience,” she said. “All of our students can do it, and they’ve shown that.”
One of the most interesting parts of the project experience was watching the students internalize things they’d been taught in their regular classes, without even realizing it, Norwood said.
But third-grader Israel Hall, whose projects tested the strength of different kinds of glue, summed up the experience in a way that seemed to show he didn’t have any idea how much he had learned:
“It was awesome, because we got to make a mess.”