Published on January 30th, 2016 | by Millennium Magazine Staff


Hundreds attend engineering conference at District Five elementary school

Pictured: Luke Reeves experiences a virtual roller coaster as part of the fifth annual LEAP Into Learning Through Engineering Conference at Leaphart Elementary.  

COLUMBIA – More than 500 elementary, middle and high school students attended an engineering conference at Leaphart Elementary.

The fifth annual LEAP Into Thinking Through Engineering Conference featured design challenges, computer programming sessions, LEGO builds and more engineering-focused projects. Organizers say the event is aimed at getting more students interested in engineering careers and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses.

“It also builds critical-thinking, problem-solving and other skills key to all learners; whether or not they’re interested in engineering careers,” said Leaphart Elementary lead teacher and event organizer Denise Collins-Bennett. “It was also an opportunity for our high school and middle school students to lead STEM activities and share their passion for learning. The interest from the elementary school students was amazing. The interest and time the high school students put into preparing and sharing with the elementary students were equally amazing. This event is one way to truly connect our campuses and to learn from each other.”

Students from schools across the district tested the flight patterns of paper airplanes, learned the basics of computer coding and build robots using LEGOs among other activities. Teachers like Dr. Martin Cwiakala and Michael Burrack said the engineering conference will have long-lasting impacts in and outside the classroom.

“For our high school students from the Center for Advanced Technical Studies, it’s an opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned,” said Cwiakala, an engineering teacher at The Center who led students through a virtual roller coaster activity. “For elementary school students in the district…it’s never too early to expose them to engineering and to the classes that are available at The Center.”

Burrack, an engineering teacher at Spring Hill High School, said the event was exciting for both the elementary students and those from the high schools.

“For the younger ones, there’s an eagerness that can be used, harnessed and utilized by educators. We had bridge building, we had puzzle making…brainstorming sessions. The students were literally cheering, and we took advantage of this eagerness,” he said. “I was also surprised and proud of how our high school students responded to the challenge. We exposed them to the value of giving back, and many of them were surprised and happy that they could do that.”

Leaphart Elementary is the district’s elementary engineering magnet school, offering a school-wide engineering program. Engineering concepts are interwoven into all subject areas through the LEAP Design Process. Students are exposed to: LEGO Education, STEM, 3D Touch printers, music engineering, standards-based challenges, NASA Explorer activities and engineering career opportunities. This year’s LEAP Into Thinking Through Engineering Conference was the largest in five years, growing by 200 participants over last year.

Fourth grade Harbison West Elementary students Emily Freeman and Jais Ward were deeply engaged in a zip line activity, challenging them to get an object from one end of the line to the other. They aren’t sure they want to become engineers but say they enjoyed the engineering conference all the same.

“I liked it because it was challenging…the challenge makes it fun,” said Freeman, a student in Harbison West Elementary School’s Escolares Academy.

Her classmate, Ward, added: “When something is challenging, it makes you think harder and you’re able to learn something new.”





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