Marshall Elementary fifth-grader Talia Gibbs reacts as her team’s gravity car goes farther than previous attempts during a one week engineering program at the University of Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Seattle, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marshall Elementary fifth-grader Talia Gibbs reacts as her team’s gravity car goes farther than previous attempts during a one week engineering program at the University of Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Seattle, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marysville fifth-graders are engineers for a week

They built gravity cars during a week-long stay at the University of Washington.

SEATTLE — Frankee Powers jumped up and down, her arms in the air and a smile on her face.

“I’m so proud of myself right now!” she exclaimed.

The gravity car her team had made out of corrugated cardboard, rubber bands, paper clips, string and wooden wheels rolled down the hall, forcing another student to move a notebook out of the way.

It was a big change from the day before, when hours of work yielded a car that wouldn’t budge.

Frankee, 10, tracked changes her group made to the car on a piece of paper with two columns: “Nailed” and “Failed.”

This run, she said, would go in the first column because they “nailed it.”

Fifth-grader Frankee Powers walks behind her team’s gravity car as it moves down a hallway at the University of Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Seattle, Wa. Students from Marshall Elementary in Marysville built gravity cars as part of a one week engineering program. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Fifth-grader Frankee Powers walks behind her team’s gravity car as it moves down a hallway at the University of Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Seattle, Wa. Students from Marshall Elementary in Marysville built gravity cars as part of a one week engineering program. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Last week, 54 fifth-grade students from the Marysville Cooperative Education Partnership at Marshall Elementary lived in dormitories and learned about engineering at the University of Washington.

They built gravity cars from kits, then worked to redesign and adapt them to travel farther and faster. An arm on the frame of the cars had a weight at one end — usually a small container filled with pennies — and was attached by string to a spool. As the weight carried the arm down, it unraveled the string, which spun the spool and in turn the car’s wheels.

The grant-funded Engineering Week started three years ago to help teachers gain more expertise in engineering, but grew into an event that includes students and parents, too. It took place during the first full week of school for the Marysville students, but before UW students started classes.

The goal is to catch students at an age when they often begin to lose interest in math and science, and show them that these are subjects they can enjoy and use, said Brian Fabien, associate dean of academic affairs for the UW College of Engineering.

“The next generation of science and math skills includes engineering,” he said.

The program also introduces students to the university environment.

“Yes, I’d love for them all to be engineers,” Fabien said. “But more important is that they can see college as a destination.”

Paige Fadden, 10, said her team must have tried 20 different ways to improve their car.

“We’ve had a lot of failures,” she said. “Most of it is because we can’t get it to start moving.”

They finally installed a larger spool from which the string unwinds. The car cruised down the hallway.

Paige isn’t a big fan of engineering, but she likes science, she said. She’d like to work with animals someday.

Teammate Aiden O’Dell, 10, said his favorite part of the project was revising designs to make the car better. It doesn’t always work. Many of the redesigns make things worse, and then it’s back to the drawing board.

Fifth-grade students from Marshall Elementary in Marysville build test and remodel gravity cars, as part of a one week engineering program, in a hall at the University of Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Seattle, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Fifth-grade students from Marshall Elementary in Marysville build test and remodel gravity cars, as part of a one week engineering program, in a hall at the University of Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in Seattle, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Emmitt Beecher, 10, walked around gathering ideas from other teams. He liked Paige and Aiden’s larger spool.

About an hour later, his group’s car was one of the best performing of the day.

Even as they celebrated, teacher Hank Palmer brought the team together in a circle to talk.

“You just went quite a ways,” he said. “So, what can you do now to make it better?”

Palmer and Jerri Novy teach the fifth-grade classes in the coop program.

It’s not just science and math skills they worked on during Engineering Week. The students learned about teamwork, perseverance and solving problems through trial and error.

“Not everyone will love the science and math, but they’ll all be problem solvers,” Novy said.

Seann Legaspi was one of the parent chaperones last week, there with his daughter, Acacia. He helped her upload photos of her team’s car to a laptop so they could be used in a presentation.

The two were part of the program last September, as well. Legaspi has noticed a change in his daughter.

“Last year, she was like, ‘I’m not an engineer. I can’t do this,’” he said. “This year, she’s engaged. She knows that, ‘Hey, I can do this. It’s not beyond my abilities.’”

He’s seen the same type of change in many of Acacia’s classmates, too.

Back in her team’s work room, Frankee hoped to upgrade their gravity car for another “nailed it” run.

“I wasn’t into this the first two days we were here,” she said. “But now, I love it. I could stay here a whole year.”

She still considers herself more of a sports person than an engineer, she said.

“But I do think I could change the world and how it works.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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