HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A group of city kids spent Tuesday afternoon soaking up sunshine for science, part of their school district’s greater focus on hands-on education.
Call it race day.
“We’re setting up the track right now,” Tina Klotzbeecher, the students’ teacher, said, spooling out three lengths of twine in the parking lot for the cars to run along.
Fourth-graders at Melrose Elementary started up their engines — naturally — as soon as they set foot into the sun.
“It’s moving,” one student said, watching the wheels start spinning before she did anything. “It’s solar powered from the sunlight.”
“Alien-themed car,” 10-year-old Jayla Tate explained, showing off her design. Each students used the same kind of small solar panel connected to the same kind of motor, sitting on top of the same kind of wheels.
Then they designed bodies for their cars independently of one another, using the concepts they’d learned in class. Jayla designed her ride to cut through the air, mounting a cone at the front.
“If it was like all flat,” she said, “the wind would hit it and it would slow down.”
Kids designed and built their cars with the help of Penn State engineering professors and students, and money from PPL.
“They’re so excited,” Klotzbeecher said. “They learn so much when it’s hands-on.”
The rest of the district thinks so, too. “We have a wide variety of plants and herbs and spices,” Jaimie Foster, the district’s chief academic officer, said, giving ABC27 a tour of the aquaponics lab at SciTech.
The student-run lab, which relies on a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants — each getting nutrients from the other — to grow both of them, is one of two in Harrisburg schools.
“We are actually growing these items to be used here at the school,” Foster said.
District leaders are working to create science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities for kids at every level. That includes partnerships with local businesses to show their students STEM can be pretty cool.
The district also has two STEM SmartLabs for students to get their hands dirty while experimenting. It’s all a pretty new focus for the district, but they say so far it’s getting kids thinking about STEM differently.
“So you see them saying, ‘You’re in my sunlight, you’re in my sunlight,'” Klotzbeecher said with a laugh.
For Jayla, it’s just what the teacher ordered. “I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” she said, “so, like, the more I do it, the better I get.”
The district hopes it can inspire more like her.