Fort Knox MacDonald School students participate in hands-on engineering exercise
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff teach concepts of buoyancy, load and navigation barge commodities.

(Fort Knox, Ky.) A group of fourth graders are asked, "What does Batman have to do with engineering?" Engineer Jeremy Nichols, Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District, then proceeds to tell them about a Corps technology called "BIM" during an intermediate school STEMposium. He used an analogy that children could understand -- superheroes. Acronyms were put aside, thankfully.
"So Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is kind of like a video game for architects and engineers. Even though we may not be designing the Batmobile or an Iron Man suit, using BIM on our projects does make our jobs pretty cool," Nichols said.

For the rest of us adults, BIM is a virtual (digital) representation of the physical characteristics of a building - walls, windows, doors, beams, columns, pipes, and ducts, etc. "The technology also allows (our customers) to "walk" through our buildings virtually in the design phase…," Nichols further explained to this writer.

Approximately 20 Army Corps of Engineers District engineering branch employees spoke to fourth, fifth and sixth graders on math and science careers at the MacDonald Intermediate School STEMposium, Fort Knox, Ky. on April 28 and 29. The STEMposium theme was "exploring engineering."

The Corps' engineers explained their jobs with the goal of getting the children excited about careers in engineering. The District employees shared their expertise using hands-on sessions to make the concepts interesting and fun for students. The environmental, civil and structural engineering lessons occurred over two intense days of learning. The children rotated through the STEM sessions while the concepts were explained in simple terms. A hands-on exercise occurred afterward with the children constructing a building component, for example, to illustrate the concept. Teachers agreed that the Corps' engineers exhibited creativity and skill to hold children's' attention.
The students are dependents of military service members and a few whose parents work full-time for DoD (Department of Defense) agencies on post.

"Having guest speakers participate in the STEMposium not only gave students the opportunity to learn about the environment and structures, but also STEM careers," said Gifted Education Services Resource Teacher and STEM coordinator Jane Sanford. "The volunteers from USACE were great representatives of STEM careers.

More than 170 students in total went through the six, two-part sessions with a strict protocol in place so learning was maximized. A teacher would loudly cue the time before the next lesson: "ONE MINUTE…TIME!" The children then quickly switched to fresh Corps engineers for a new session, post haste. The learning experience was effective because groups were kept small, lessons were to the point, and it was interactive, according to Sanford.

James Bruszewski, civil engineer, explained the concept of bridge design in his presentation. Using a foam-cushion model, he illustrated tension and compression forces in bridge members. He demonstrated with the built-up-model examples and how this related to actual design applications.

David Osborne, civil engineer; Corey White, civil engineer; Derek Huber, civil engineer; and Capt. Dan Wolgemuth, project engineer; gave a class exercise using an odd combination of props: a large plastic storage tub of water placed on the science class table, four dollars in pennies and aluminum foil. Combined, these props helped the engineers to explain concepts of load, buoyancy and navigation. They told students to make foil boats of various shapes, configurations and sizes. The students took their sheets of foil, made the little boats -- approximately five or six inches long or circular -- and then returned back to the tub of water. The children placed the boats in the water and added pennies to their foil boats illustrating "load." Engineers explained how the design of these hand-crafted foil boats could carry commodities -- represented by the pennies -- on the river. If one capsized, there were giggles. (Engineering can fun!)

In another session, the children viewed a couple of PowerPoint slides about 3D design and buildings the Corps helped to design and construct. "We're structural engineers and designers and use math and science every day. The engineer team looks at structures to see that they can withstand weight -- the sides, the roof, for example," an engineer said. The fourth graders viewed a picture of a Ft. McCoy, Wis. General Purpose Warehouse the Corps built to show the different parts of a building. "Any site or land that you construct that can be engineered you use math and science," said Nichols.

One engineer asked his group of students, "Who has played the video game Minecraft?" Many little hands went up. "It is designed to be a virtual model like we, as engineers, use." In Minecraft, the "gamer" or viewer builds things in virtual landscapes. The entire world is made up of blocks of dirt, cobblestone, obsidian, lava, water, as examples, and the designer combines these blocks to create tools, or machines.

Jason Root, resident engineer, Fort Knox, told students to take a look at engineering as a career path. "Whether it is through your teachers, family, or their friends, take a look at engineering. It is an exciting field and can be a great career that leads you to amazing things," he said.

"The Corps' engineers demonstrated real-world applications that modeled the concepts being taught to the students. Students were also able to talk with and interact with the engineers in an exciting and engaging context which will hopefully stimulate their interest in math and science fields leading to a future in a STEM career," said Paul Colonna, Instructional Systems Specialist in Secondary Mathematics. "The Corps crafted a system that gets students excited in science and math."

Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Participants:
Engineering Branch:
Jim Bruszewski
Jeff Canaday
Jason Root
Terry Durham
Corey White
David Osborne
Ray Smith
Alex McCoy
Mercedes Hughes
Jeremy Nichols
Derek Huber
Capt. Dan Wolgemuth
Brittney Hyde
Quyet La
Jade Young
Kristin Berger
Jennifer Thomason
Craig Coombs

Page last updated Wed May 14th, 2014 at 12:00