Early engineering feats

BERTHOLD Launching a marble off a foam “ski jump” and racing cardboard cars on balloon power made for a fun and educational time for 4-H members in Berthold Monday.

Opportunities to learn about robotics and engineering through hands-on activities have proven popular with 4-Hers, said Sharon Smith, North Dakota State University Extension agent for 4-H in Mountrail County.

“There’s getting to be more now that they see what we have available for them to work with,” said Smith, who has conducted after-school programs as well as 4-H events. She assisted the Ward County 4-H program with the activities Monday.

From building Lego robots or propeller cars to erecting wood and cardboard cranes run by toy motors, the challenges entice young people to exercise their critical thinking skills and imagination, Smith said.

“They get pretty creative,” she said.

The ski jump activity provided teams with six feet of foam, rolls of masking tape, and any surface area or other supplies that participants needed and could lay hold of.

“It’s hard,” said Thomas Schauer of Carpio, whose three-person team made several corrections to try to get its marble to clear the distance to its target. His teammate, Fletcher Hennessy of Des Lacs, said the biggest challenge was to get the marble to launch cleanly and not fly all over.

One team, taping its ski jump to a chair perched on a table, found that the straight drop before a curved lift at the bottom created a strong launch for the marble.

Another team made use of a table and chair but also taped together supports from plastic cups, a paper plate, can and a storage container in their experiment to get the proper amount of slope and lift on their foam jump.

“It was a little bit tricky,” said Anne Schauer of Carpio. “We started out with just a coffee can and we had to just keep building up.”

The children used cups, CDs or plastic discs as wheels for their balloon cars, built out of cardboard, straws, rubberbands and whatever else they wanted to use.

“They decide how big their car platform has to be for the balloon to fit. We like to put them in teams because they have to learn how to negotiate and work together to figure it out,” Smith said.

She said the engineering events involve friendly competition that encourages children to check out what other teams are doing to get ideas. In the balloon car race, the goal was to get all the cars to travel a certain distance across the floor.

“If they accomplished that, everybody is successful,” Smith said.

Parents had a chance to make their own ski jumps and balloon cars. Parent Amy Schauer of Carpio said the construction can be challenging, but it’s definitely worthwhile for the kids.

“I think it’s just fun,” she said. “I like the friendships these kids make anytime you can get them working

together like this.”