Canoes, Bridges and Flappy Birds Build ExciTEment
 

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Canoes, Bridges and Flappy Birds Build ExciTEment


LAURA L. ACOSTA | June 20, 2014 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS.

The cardboard canoe competition, a highlight of UTEP's 2014 ExciTES Summer Institute in the College of Engineering, is one of several inquiry-based, team-oriented projects that introduces middle and high school students to different engineering fields. The race takes place in UTEP's Student Recreation Center.
The cardboard canoe competition, a highlight of UTEP's 2014
ExciTES Summer Institute in the College of Engineering, is one
of several inquiry-based, team-oriented projects that introduces
middle and high school students to different engineering fields.
The race takes place in UTEP's Student Recreation Center.
Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service
 

It was sink or swim for 11-year-old Jonah Ayala at this year's highly anticipated cardboard canoe race at The University of Texas at El Paso's Student Recreation Center on June 13.

The sixth-grader at Immanuel Christian School and his three teammates reinforced the bottom of their homemade canoe with extra layers of cardboard and tape to keep it afloat as they raced laps around the swimming pool.

"We added two cardboard layers," said Ayala, whose team won the competition. "Last year we didn't and we crashed in the middle (of the race)."

The cardboard canoe competition, a highlight of UTEP's 2014 ExciTES Summer Institute in the College of Engineering, is one of several inquiry-based, team-oriented projects that introduces middle and high school students to different engineering fields such as electrical engineering, materials engineering, civil engineering and computer science through activities developed by UTEP faculty and graduate students.

"I like engineering because you get to build stuff," said Ayala, whose parents Rebecca and Victor Ayala are UTEP engineering alumni. This was the second year he participated in the engineering camp. "I had the most fun building things. We built this bridge out of glue and Popsicle sticks."

ExciTES, which stands for Excellence in Technology, Engineering and Science, encourages students to use their knowledge, imagination and creativity, and apply it to traditional math and science problems.

During the weeklong camp, participants baked cookies made out of asphalt to learn about metallurgical engineering and applied civil engineering principles to design weight-bearing trusses for their Popsicle bridges.

"ExciTES gets kids interested in engineering," said Vicente Rivera, a computer science undergraduate student who is an engineering ambassador and this year's ExciTES coordinator. "We've got to find a way to engage the kids. It's hard to show them math and science and tell them, 'This is what engineers do.' It's better to show them a rocket so they can see what engineers do. We show them how to get it done using math and science."

Gabby Gandara, director of engineering student services, said campers do not need to excel in science or math to participate in ExciTES.

"Participants do not have to be good at math or science to enjoy ExciTES," Gandara said. "Students who do not enjoy math or science seem to take more from the camp than those who already excel in these particular subjects."

To construct their cardboard canoes, campers learned about buoyancy and what type of canoes to build during a theory and design class. They also participated in a sinking and floating module where they made boats out of clay and tested their buoyancy by filling them up with marbles.

Teams were given sheets of cardboard and a limited amount of tape to implement what they learned into their canoe design.

When Rebecca and Victor Ayala studied civil engineering at UTEP, they took part in the concrete canoe competition. Rebecca Ayala remembers testing different batches of concrete to see which one was light enough to float and sustain the most people.

"We always would tell Jonah about that and truly if you can get (the canoe) to float and you make the right design, you can make it happen," Rebecca Ayala said. "So he was very eager. I think (ExciTES) gets them ready for that kind of competition and of course the real world when you're making true designs."

During June and July, ExciTES will host three sessions for sixth through eighth graders and four ExciTES Challenge sessions for ninth and tenth graders.

"ExciTES Challenge also offers a higher degree of difficulty for a different age group than that of a regular ExciTES session," Gandara explained. "While participants don't realize the difference, each session is structured to challenge the students in different ways. The use of deadlines, budgets and team accountability give a challenge to the students enrolled."

Fifteen middle school students participated in the first ExciTES session from June 9-13. The first Challenge session from June 16-19 and 23-26 included 35 high school students.

This summer, ExciTES introduced middle school students to computer science modules. Campers learned basic code to program their own custom version of Flappy Bird, a mobile game in which a player controls a bird that is attempting to fly between rows of green pipes without hitting them.

They also designed a Rube Goldberg machine – an extremely complicated device that performs a simple task – to knock down Nerf darts.

"What I like about that one is that it brings out their creativity," Rivera said. "I give them a bunch of stuff and I tell them to knock down the Nerf darts (that are set up in a triangle) in the coolest way possible. We start on the table and then they take it to the floor. They're like, 'It would be cool if we have the ball bounce and go through chairs.' They love that one."

Campers also toured the W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation and the Lockheed Martin Mechanical Engineering Lab at UTEP. In upcoming ExciTES Challenge camps, participants will go on field trips to the GE Health Care and Dish Network plants to see where engineers work.

For the first time, ExciTES will host a free challenge session called Camp WIN to encourage high school girls to become engineers from July 14-17 and 21-24. The College of Engineering also offers four robotics sessions for third-through fifth-graders. Registration for these sessions is through UTEP's Professional and Public Programs Office.

For more information about ExciTES, visit excites.utep.edu.