Little Huskies learn engineering along with ABCs

Robert Smith
Jon Marie Wilson lofts a science experiment into the air last Thursday morning at Indian Camp Elementary School. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

Will your egg crack or not? It was the moment of truth last Thursday morning at Indian Camp Elementary School, and nearly 200 pint-sized engineers squatted on the curb and chanted, “Drop it, drop it,” and “Higher, higher,” as their teacher ascended in the bucket of a fire department ladder truck to drop their experiment packets to the ground.

What was going on? Kids at Indian Camp are enrolled in a mind-expanding course this school year that is giving them opportunities to learn hands-on lessons about science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. The children had been learning about the planet Mars and had used simple materials to build their own “Mars rovers.”

The question on the children’s minds last Thursday morning, as the ladder truck bucket rose into the air and their teacher, Jon Marie Wilson, began dropping their rover packets to the ground, was whether their rovers had been constructed well enough to keep an egg or eggs tucked into them from cracking.

“They tried to design something that would land softly and not fall too fast,” Wilson said. “They had several different materials that they could choose from, so they got to pick and choose and did their engineering.”

Children at Pawhuska Elementary School are also enrolled in the course. Pawhuska Elementary is the upper elementary school, serving grades 3-5. Indian Camp is a Pre-K through second grade school.

Wilson explained she adds elements to class projects for youth at Pawhuska Elementary, to make the projects appropriately challenging for their age group. The older kids were given a budget for the Mars rover project, and had to spend $50 or less. That brought math into the lesson along with physical principles that are subjects of scientific study.

The Mars rover assignment was the second engineering-related project of the school year for the children in course. They had already completed an assignment that required them to use simple materials to build bridges that would bear weight.

Wilson said the class is still just getting started and the assignments so far have been fairly simple. She is working in the direction of eventually introducing the students to subjects such as robotics and coding.

The impetus for offering the course is that Oklahoma public education is so geared toward teaching reading and math that science is sometimes neglected, Wilson said. What she is teaching is as much a mindset as it is a series of details and principles. The mindset is that of scientific observation and experimentation.

“There’s not one right answer,” is one of the messages, Wilson said, recalling that she told children working on their class projects to build what they thought would work. Wilson collaborated with Byron Cowan, principal of Pawhuska Elementary, and Amy Sanders, principal of Indian Camp Elementary, on the development of the course.

Wilson sees the 191 children taking the class at Indian Camp every third class day, and the 155 kids taking it at Pawhuska Elementary every other day. On the day of the egg-drop exercise, she had an egg-drop program at Indian Camp in the morning and another one at Pawhuska Elementary in the afternoon.

Sanders said the course has been a very positive thing, especially for children who sometimes struggle in the classroom.

“They actually are able to engage in the critical thinking skills while having fun doing it,” Sanders said. “Their creativity can go any way they want it to.”

Another thing Sanders said she likes about the way the class has developed is that Wilson has made it possible for Pre-K kids at Indian Camp, who are not actually enrolled, to take part in activities that are the same as those in which class members are engaged.