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Blocks, Blueprints, and Fluid Power

Written on December 18th, 2013

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This year, students in Rachael Dykstra’s science class learned by doing. For most of November, and a good part of December, fifteen Jarvis Community Christian School (JCCS) students were hard at work designing models of lifters and rotational arms. Their aim: to build a device capable of moving one block to a specified distance.

Working in groups of twos and threes, students constructed their prototypes using kits that contained basic materials like wood and glue. Outside of the classroom, preparation for their assignments was a little less tactile, but equally collaborative. Teams had the opportunity to work on shared blueprints at the same time, from various locations, with the aid of their online portfolios. That element of the project was appealing to the class from the start, says Dykstra. It allowed students to stay connected with their team mates and continue their good work from home.

On December 12th, students presented their completed prototypes to a panel of judges for their school’s first ever Science Challenge. The event took place in the JCCS gym and was modeled after the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) Fluid Power Challenge—something that Dykstra heard about while attending a Science Teachers Association of Ontario Conference in November.

Using their online portfolios, students were required to build, test and troubleshoot their devices in three and a half hours or less to a group of volunteer parent judges. That was a nerve wracking task for some, but each team rose to the occasion, says Dykstra. She particularly enjoyed seeing students who typically prefer to work behind the scenes take on leadership roles during their prototype demonstrations.

Later in the afternoon participants showed their lifters and rotational arms to younger students, all of whom were eager to understand how the devices worked. Not only did that part of the day allow for multi-age engagement, it invited the Grade 7 and 8 students to step into the of role teacher as they explained what they made to a curious audience.

“The Science Challenge was a great twist on the traditional Science Fair,” says JCCS Principal Douglas Osborn. “It was thrilling to see students excited and motivated to use their scientific knowledge to create and solve real, practical challenges,” he adds.

According to Osborn, the school’s Science Challenge has prompted a number of students to consider exploring careers in the field of design and engineering.

The enthusiasm surrounding the project was palpable in the classroom from day one, says Dykstra. And she hopes it’s the kind that will spread. As far as she’s concerned, the more Christian schools that participate in future JCCS Science Challenges, or host their own, the better.

To ask questions and learn more about the JCCS Science Challenge, connect with Rachael Dykstra on the eCurriculum’s EHE Science group.

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