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Tualatin Elementary students get a lesson in engineering

Eaton engineers teach balloon-car workshop on energy, friction


TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - From left, Tualatin Elementary School fifth-graders Mason Johnson, Owen Heidt, Carlos Torres-Hernandez, Grace Richmond, Shelby Underwood and Jacquelin Salcedo-Miranda watch their balloon-powered car roll forward during a workshop on energy and friction.Pam Rossio's fifth-grade class was buzzing Friday as a team of professional engineers came into the classroom to help students design small model “cars” powered by air.

Tualatin Elementary School welcomed the group from the manufacturing firm Eaton as part of a unit on energy and friction. The lesson came out of a STEM curriculum: an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Table groups assembled their vehicles, which used nothing more than the air in a balloon “engine” attached to the back for propulsion. The students then tested them out on a makeshift runway on the classroom floor to see how far they would go once the balloon was blown up and then the air let out.

“That was interesting,” said Mason Johnson, who was in charge of recording his team's results, after the first set of tests. “We got 40 (inches) as an average.”

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Eaton mechanical engineer Kyla Purvis, left, helps fifth-grader Owen Heidt as he works on a balloon-powered car during a class workshop at Tualatin Elementary School last Friday.There was substantial divergence between the results of each test in Mason's group, with the car shooting past the last tape mark on the runway on a couple and fizzling out on others after going just a few inches. On a couple of tests, the car traveled a fair distance but veered off to the side, hitting a chair leg or an exercise ball just off the “track.” Mason and his teammates speculated that those results could have been caused by crooked axles on the car or maybe the balloon pointing off to the side when it was released to let the air out.

Kyla Purvis, a mechanical engineer from Eaton, said the workshop was intended to teach the students about potential energy and friction, as well as about the scientific process: formulating hypotheses, testing them and measuring the outcomes.

“It's been a lot of fun,” she said. “I love working with the kids, because they have so much energy and they get really excited about learning new things. It's how I think all adults should be.”

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Fifth-graders Jacquelin Salcedo-Miranda (left) and Carlos Torres-Hernandez work on their balloon-powered car at Tualatin Elementary School last Friday.Rossio, the classroom teacher, called the connection with Eaton this year “perfect timing,” as her students have been learning STEM concepts that tied in well to Friday's lesson.

“It fits right into our fifth-grade curriculum with different forms of energy,” Rossio said.

Blowing up balloons, letting them go and sending a little car zooming across the classroom floor is a whole ton of fun. But beyond that, Purvis said she was impressed by the students' understanding of what they were doing Friday.

“They grasp it extremely well,” Purvis said. “Most of these concepts I didn't learn until I was in high school and college.”