SWE Connecticut hosted an outreach event called “ Build Your Own Roller Coaster” in New Milford, Connecticut on February 6. Our goal was to introduce girls to engineering and give them a better understanding of how an engineer performs her work. The event was open to girls and boys aged 10-15 years old. We collaborated on this event with Robotics and Beyond, a local company offering STEM programs/camps to students.
The Build Your Own Roller Coaster activity:
- was a relatable and fun concept that worked as a group project
- easily demonstrated engineering work methods and the importance of collaboration
- allowed us to expand on engineering concepts to meet a student’s curiosity
- had good breadth of design creativity with loops, drops, and turns
- had easily obtainable materials
- was easily created, tested and redesigned
The event was promoted in New Milford at family venues, school systems, and in town papers. We also promoted the event on our website, emails to our membership, Twitter, and the national SWENext calendar. We designed a registration form on our website including fields required for SWENext registration so that we could cross sell SWENext at the event. Volunteers were solicited from our membership to plan, develop, and execute the program. Collegiate members from SWE New Haven came to the event to mentor students on the project, help with operations, and talk to parents and students about engineering.
The day began with a slide presentation. The students learned about SWE and its mission. Pictures of breathtaking roller coasters from amusement parks transitioned into simpler schematic drawings. The drawings showed a roller coaster car at the highest point of the roller coaster full of potential energy and then what happens to its energy along the way. Eliciting responses from the students we talked about potential energy, kinetic energy, gravity, friction, resistance and where the highest point of the roller coaster needs to be. Finally the students learned how engineers share their talents and collaborate with others to design a roller coaster, build a prototype, test the prototype, evaluate results, problem solve, and redesign/retest.
Students were divided into groups with diversity by age/grade. Each group was given white boards and markers for designing, foam pipe insulation (tracks), toothpicks and pipe cleaners (connectors), assorted wood pieces, sticks and card board (support structures), marbles (cars), colored paper and masking tape. Tables and chairs around which groups huddled to design their roller coaster on their white boards turned into support structures with tracks taped on them as the teams executed their plans. Students who had just met pooled their ideas and their talents to create roller coasters with multi-loops, sideways turns, jumps, tunnels and adornments to give their structure an extreme vibe or exciting colors.
After students built their structures each group demonstrated their roller coaster for the other attendees and talked about their work. Parents were invited to come back before pickup to view the roller coasters and talk with the students about their design.
SWE CT Professional and SWE New Haven Collegiate members were available to aid the student groups in the project, talk to the students and parents about engineering, and provide information about/cross-sell SWENext.
Following are some of the quotes from tomorrow’s engineering women who built roller coasters at the SWE event. Many of these girls are now signed up for SWENext:
“I really enjoyed working as a group and solving the problems that we ran into”.
“I learned about the science involved in roller coasters. I also learned that being an engineer is really fun!”
“I learned that it is important to problem solve.”
“I learned to be cooperative and open-minded with other people. If you listen, you’ll get great ideas!”
“I learned about structure, gravity, and how to build a roller coaster.”
“I learned that the heavier the object was the more likely that it can stay upside down.“
Our event was highly successful and we are grateful for the Region F grant that funded this event.
- We were able to reach 31 attendees and their parents.
- About 65% of the attendees were girls.
- We signed up 21 students for SWENext.
- Students who attended came from 8 area towns