Maryland students flex their STEM muscles

Springfield Middle School sixth-grader Jeremiah Acquah carefully places a bag of rice on the precarious pile he and teammate Vecen Williams stacked atop the bridge they and Zalman Singh constructed using only popsicle sticks, string and mushed gumdrops during the school’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — event Friday in Williamsport, Md., October 25, 2019, which is part of the statewide Maryland STEM Festival running from Oct. 11 to Nov. 10.. The group managed to stack 20 bags before they began sliding off. (Alexis Fitzpatrick/The Herald-Mail via AP)

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. (AP) — Jeremiah Acquah had barely placed the 20th bag of rice on the stack rising from a bridge made of popsicle sticks before they started sliding off.

Jeremiah said he and fellow Springfield Middle School sixth-grader Vecen Williams didn’t plan their bag placement properly at the beginning, and that otherwise their makeshift bridge probably would have held under the weight.

The bridge design was part of the school’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — event Friday, which is part of the statewide Maryland STEM Festival running from Oct. 11 to Nov. 10.

Springfield Middle students in all grades were required to design and build a bridge capable of holding between three and 23 portioned bags of rice, make a 5-inch tall hut with a workable door that wouldn’t be blown away by a leaf blower and craft a vessel capable of floating and staying waterproof enough to protect its “message in a bottle.”

Jeremiah and Vecen, along with classmate Zalman Singh, made their bridge out of only popsicle sticks, string and the wild-card requirement — gumdrops. The boys used them as adhesive since they forgot to ask for tape or glue.

“We kind of mushed them up because I figured that since gumdrops were practically made of mostly sugar, and sugar’s a type of crystal meaning that you can melt it into a sticky type of solution, I figured it would work,” Jeremiah said.

Science teachers Ace Schwarz and Danielle Black organized the “Great Desert Island Escape,” designing the challenges over the summer. Students had two class periods to come up with and craft their projects.

“We love doing the stations because it gives them a chance to try a different design element, so they’re thinking about engineering in different ways because building a hut has different priorities than building a message in a bottle or a bridge,” Schwarz said.

The students were also limited in the supplies they could use, so they had to be careful with what they chose, and detailed plans were required before they could start building.

“They really like testing their designs beforehand to see how they held up and then redesigning them, which is pretty cool,” Schwarz said. “There was a lot of collaboration, a lot of testing and redesigning.”

Guest judges included Washington County Public Schools science content specialists Tara Ellis and Jeffrey Longenberger, advanced programs teacher Beth Moore and Brittany Wedd, Discovery Station executive director.

Seventh-graders Kendal Hoover, Emily Hinz and Greenley Aleshire successfully kept their message dry using a paper towel tube surrounded by straws and wrapped in plastic. Their bridge, however, crumpled after the ninth rice bag was placed on top.

That was nine bags more than the girls thought the arched bridge could take.

“This was last minute, very last minute,” said Greenley, who had been tasked to stack the bags due to her steady hands.

The girls added string and gumdrop grips after deciding Kendal’s original design might break.

Greenley said the group worked well together because they all brought something different to the table.

“I feel like we’re a really good team,” she said.

She said they enjoyed all of this year’s projects and it helped them exercise different skills.


Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md.,

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