The most essential tool to any student is a vivid imagination.
Allowing a child’s mind to freely roam while trying to solve a problem will often produce extraordinary results. As they work their way through the dilemma, young people can envision potential answers. Then once they put their ideas to the test, they’ll see if they were right.
New York Air Brake in Watertown has a wonderful program that invites students to do just this. Each year, representatives of the company host middle schoolers for their STEM/Engineering Day Open House.
STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” And New York Air Brake is the ideal place to hold this event.
About 40 students from Copenhagen, Immaculate Heart, Sackets Harbor and South Jefferson schools visited New York Air Brake’s facility on Starbuck Avenue on March 1. They were tasked with solving one problem and went right to work.
The youths participated “in an interactive design engineering activity where students had to construct the tallest freestanding tower possible out of the materials that were provided in order to hold a marshmallow,” according to a story pub-lished March 1 by the Watertown Daily Times. “[One] group’s strategy was to build a basic square tower but take away one of the sides and replace it with the string. The only supplies the students received were 20 spaghetti sticks, one sheet containing 20 address labels, one piece of string and one marshmallow. Students could only use those supplies but could break the spaghetti or cut up the tape and string to create the tower. Scissors can aid in construction but could not be used as part of the tower, and the tower had to support the entire marshmallow for 10 seconds. The winning team had the tallest tower from the table to the top of the marshmallow.”
Activities like this benefit young and inquisitive minds. The students aren’t graded on their projects, so they won’t experience the usual pressure of feeling they need to do well to pass the experiment.
But at the same time, it inspires the students’ competitive instincts. This entices them to visualize possible solutions with their teammates. The process helps build critical thinking skills that they’ll make good use of their entire lives.
The students also took a tour of New York Air Brake’s facility. This enhanced the rewards they received from their problem-solving task. They could see up close how company staff members put their minds to work to design first-rate braking systems for trains that are used all over the world.
Peter T. Derouchie has been with New York Air Brake for nearly 24 years. He led the students through the company’s plant. Peter J. Rogers, a test tech who has worked in the firm’s engineering lab for 10 years, recognized the advantages to having students review what goes on inside the facility.
“They get to come here and actually get a good idea of both ends of how engineer-ing works,” Rogers said in the article. “You go from an idea, production to test to the market. … I’ve done a lot of coaching; we’ve both done a lot of coaching. And to see that people come in and make them interested in what we do here because we love it, we’re here because we have fun with it. … It’s a lot of fun; it really is.”
There’s no doubt the students enjoyed the experience as well. This is an excellent example of how local companies assist schools in this region accomplish their goals of sharpening young minds for the future.
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