April 27, 2012 12:00AM
There was a carnival atmosphere at Joplin’s East Middle School Thursday as students lined up to shoot foam-tipped rockets, pilot boats on a river and even ride a hovercraft. It seemed like so much fun, in fact, that it was hard to believe they were learning important math, science and physics lessons.
The middle school students were taking part in a massive learning activity designed, built and operated by Pittsburg State University technology education majors.
“We thought that because the 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in London, that it would be a good theme for the project,” said Mike Neden, a member of the faculty in the Department of Technology and Engineering Education at PSU.
At the center of the layout, the PSU students built a replica of the Tower Bridge. On the Thames River that the bridge spanned, the middle school students piloted boats. The activity taught lessons about weight distribution, mass and drag.
At another station, the students used bicycle pumps, building up air pressure that would power rockets toward a bulls-eye across the room. At another, they rode on hovercraft that were actually powered by small leaf blowers built into the craft.
Even the Para-Olympics were honored. Students competed in wheelchair races and vision-impaired volleyball, for which they wore special glasses that reduced their vision and used a volleyball that had a bell inside of it.
Kathy Weaver, a teacher at East Middle School, said she was amazed at the stations the PSU students had built and their engagement with the students.
“I think they (the middle school students) are loving this!” Weaver said. “They’ve done a phenomenal job adapting to middle school students and to the curriculum.”
Leo Needham, a junior from Lamar, Mo., said he and the other PSU students had worked for many weeks on designing and building the various stations, but that was only part of the job.
“We had to do lesson plans,” Needham said. “We came down here (to the school) and delivered 45-minute lesson plans a couple of weeks ago. The activities the students are doing today are based on those lessons.”
Needham said staging the event was a learning experience both for the middle school students and the PSU students.
“One thing I learned was that it’s a lot easier to design a project than it is to implement it!” he said.