Students Make Hovercrafts

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

May 5, 2006

Most kids under the age of twelve have never even touched a power tool, but on Friday some at Walker Upper Elementary School got to feel the thrill of a drill.

Thanks to University of Virginia students helping them out.

It's exciting. It's creative. Most importantly, it's educational.

"We've always thought that...someone really great had to build [hovercrafts], but we can build them ourselves," said Monroe Allen, a sixth-grader at Walker Upper Elementary School.

The hands-on experience these Walker Upper Elementary students got sets the foundation for a career in engineering. The sixth-graders, helped by University of Virginia engineering students, spent five days learning to build hovercrafts.

"The first day we were here these sixth-graders really surprised us with how much they knew about Newton's laws," said Ryan Hickox, an engineering student at the University of Virginia.

The engineering on the road program is four years old. It's a project to excite boys and girls in grades six through eight about science and math. An engineering professor says the program works.

"Oh, yes. They love it, they get excited about it. They actually learn the science and math that we're trying to teach, and as I say-- they learn the engineering design process, and they learn that engineering is something that they can do," said Larry Richards, an Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Virginia.

Making the hovercrafts was no small task. The young engineers used small propellers, tiny motors, crates, paper plates, and even plastic bags. Getting the hover crafts off the ground on the first try surprised a few in the process.

"I was surprised it worked on the first try. I thought it would take a couple tries...for the turbine to start working...and for all the wires to be connected because all the wires made it look a little confusing," said Vishnue Muthiah, a sixth-grader at Walker Upper E.S.

The University of Virginia hopes the students' connection to math and science lasts for a lifetime.

The engineers did this as part of a pilot program to educate students across the entire country.
The first time they were at Walker Upper Elementary School a few years ago-- the engineers helped students build submarines.

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