Learning Together

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
December 04, 2018

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — In ME 340, an engineering design class, Penn State mechanical engineering students were tasked with creating a STEM-related puzzle box for kids that was engaging, challenging and fun. As they journeyed through the prototype process, they faced their toughest graders yet — elementary students at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania.

On Nov. 6, the class visited the elementary school and presented their designs to a room of eager 4th graders and were “graded” on their final project. The following week, the same 4th grade class built their own puzzle box creations based on what they learned.

“Not only does this help my students refine their design, but it demonstrates a push to all levels of education to show the opportunities in STEM,” said Jason Moore, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University and the instructor of the class.

“As with everything we do, how can engineers create something that goes to good use? This is how we learn and grow.”

—Jason Moore, Penn State associate professor of mechanical engineering

The collaboration was a result of the Leonhard Center Innovation Academy, a workshop held at University Park to foster and support innovative teaching methods. Moore developed the idea to partner with a local K-12 school to not only promote STEM to the young students, but also improve the burgeoning engineers’ design process.

“When designing a product, you always have to keep the customer in mind. For my students, they will work with this age group in mind,” Moore said. “The ability to actually get their feedback and refine their project will be extremely helpful.”

“As with everything we do, how can engineers create something that goes to good use?” he explained. “This is how we learn and grow.”

The students were charged with creating a STEM-focused puzzle box, where the user would complete a unique action like shaking it or turning it upside down to release the mechanism.

The Corl Street STEM teacher, Kristen Albright, explained it as, “It’s like an escape room, but in box form.”

The collaboration with Albright’s class allowed her students to gain additional insights into STEM fields like mechanical engineering during their early formative years. The demand for this type of educational engagement is apparent: When asked what supplemental classes they’d like their children to take, Albright said that 86 percent of surveyed parents in the district voted in favor of STEM.

“My broader goal is to grow and expand this collaboration in the coming years,” Moore said. Based on the enthusiasm of all students gathered that day, he believes the final projects will benefit immensely.

“For the grade-school kids, it gave them a terrific exposure to what mechanical engineers do. And my students were able to get valuable feedback to improve their designs,” he said. “It’s a win-win!”

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Last Updated December 04, 2018