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Students tackle math, reasoning skills in new tech class at Stillwater Middle School

Photograph and story by Mark Rountree - Stillwater NewsPress
Students tackle math, reasoning skills in new tech class at Stillwater Middle School

Becky Hammack, Stillwater Middle School science teacher, instructs students during her Gateway to Technology class.

Stillwater Middle School students will be building virtual playgrounds and trying to keep a frozen penguin from melting as part of a new elective engineering program.

“Gateway to Technology” was instituted this semester for sixth- and seventh-grade students.

“My hope is that this course will enhance their math and reasoning skills,” said Becky Hammack, the course instructor. “It will definitely give them a better understanding of engineering and what engineers do. It will expose them to the world of engineering and prepare them for a job market that is in great need of engineers.”

Hammack said the course is being funding by a $25,000 grant by the Oklahoma Department of Career Tech, and a matching grant of $25,000 by Meridian Technology Center.

The money is being used to purchase 25 computers, each equipped to handle three-dimensional software. Funds also have been used to purchase robotics kits.

Hammack, a science teacher who is working on her doctorate in Science Education at Oklahoma State University, will instruct approximately 350 students in the sixth and seventh grades.

“It’s really fun,” said Sarah Evans, a seventh- grade student at the middle school. “This is math and science put together. It’s fun building things and sketching. I want to be a civil engineer, and this (class) helps me learn about that.”

Three classes of sixth-graders each go through nine weeks of course work.

There are two classes of seventh-graders, each going through a semester of instruction.

During the last three weeks of their nine-week session, each of the sixth-graders will design and build a virtual playground by using three-dimensional software.

“They are given a problem, in this case building a playground, and have to come up with a solution and figure out how to do it,” said Hammack. “That’s engineering.”

She said students will need to factor in the cost of the playground, the age of the students using the playground, the land space available to build the playground and safety issues concerning the playground.

Next year, as seventh-graders, one of their projects will be to design and build a windmill as part of their instruction on alternative energy sources.

Students will research the benefits of alternative energy and the comparative costs of other energy sources. They also will measure the amount of energy that is produced in their windmill.

Another activity will be the Penguin Project. Each student will be issued an ice cube formed in the shape of a penguin.

Their penguins will be placed in a heating chamber. It will be the students’ task to design and build a box to prevent their penguin from melting once inside the heating chamber. Hammack said the project will teach students about different aspects of heat transfer.

“So far, the reaction has been very positive,” said Hammack.

“They like all the activities that we are doing, and we’re not even in to the really cool stuff yet.”

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