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January 18, 2022 Academics

Nodland Elementary School kids learn STEM skills with playground plans

Kindergarten student Dylan McCullough adjusts a slide on his playground model at Nodland Elementary School. Kindergarten students made models of their ideal playgrounds and were asked about their designs by East High School physics students. Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal.
Kindergarten student Dylan McCullough adjusts a slide on his playground model at Nodland Elementary School. Kindergarten students made models of their ideal playgrounds and were asked about their designs by East High School physics students. Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal.

An enclosed slide created by Giovanni Angerman would’ve been perfect had it not been for a simple design flaw.

The stand-in person — fashioned by Giovanni from a Styrofoam head and popsicle sticks — kept getting stuck inside the slide, which was actually just an empty paper towel roll tube.

“His arms are stuck again,” Giovanni, a Nodland Elementary School kindergartener, said to his classmate and lab partner Lenox Morgan.

Once the stick man’s arms got unstuck, his head would fall off.

Who knew a classroom project could turn so violent?

That OK, since Giovanni and Lenox were having fun while learning about push-pull engineering while making models of playground equipment.

“The students were asked to draw and then make models of what their ideal playground equipment would look like,” teacher Kim Lauer explained. “Each piece of equipment needed to be something that could be pushed away from the students or pulled towards them.”

The kindergartners would then explain how their models worked to a panel of East High School physics students.

“The kindergartners are blowing me away with their creativity,” East 10th grader Paxton McCaslen said.

“That’s so imaginative,” he said, while inspecting miniature playground equipment designed by Carson Kirwan and Laythem Biederman.

“Our playground has a trampoline and a zipline,” Carson explained while Laythem showed how the trampoline can also double as a catapult.

“Now, these projects would be impressive if high school kids thought of them,” McCaslen said. “Knowing that the ideas came from kindergartners is just incredible.”

This was music to teacher Lauer’s ears. She thought the project could spark the interest of her students.

“My kids were given the task of reimagining one of their favorite areas of the school, which is the playground,” she said. “From there, they formed teams, collaborated on ideas, and thought really hard on how each piece of equipment worked. Everything had to be pushed or pulled.”

While this exercise may seem like fun, Lauer said her students were actually developing problem-solving skills. They also learned about force and motion principles the way an engineer would.

“Maybe, we’ll be able to spark a child’s interest in engineering,” she said.

View the full coverage by Earl Horlyk on the Sioux City Journal.