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2nd graders collaborate on engineering design project with Calvin students

The classes worked virtually to design and build basic machines called "automatas"
Posted at 10:38 AM, Nov 30, 2020

A group of 2nd graders became engineers in training when they collaborated on a project with a class of engineering students from Calvin University to design and build a basic machine.

Every year the Engineering 101 class at Calvin University works on a community engagement project, though the pandemic pushed this year's project to be re-imagined.

This year Professor Monica Groenenboom at Calvin reached out to 2nd grade teacher Stephanie Sytsema at Grandville Christian Elementary to have her students design an Automata that her college students would then revise and build.

“We wanted to have a kind of a toy that moved, and then my students were to use 3 out of 5 mechanisms to make it move," Professor Sytsema said.

Both classes explored similar engineering concepts throughout the project.

“It gave an opportunity for my students to learn that problem finding, brainstorming, designing, and then building and reiterate and building and reiterating all the prototyping stuff from the college students, which was really, really cool,” Sytsema told FOX 17.

Engineering students David Conhoff says he didn't know what to first expect from the collaborative project.

“To work with 2nd graders was a little bit of a surprise at first, just because in my own educational background, as in 2nd grade, I had no experience with engineering at all,” Conhoff said.

“At the beginning, they gave us some ideas of what they thought the toy would look like, or it could be. And then we showed them our drawings and our design ideas.”

The classes went back and forth, sharing ideas and revisions over the internet.

“The kids had really great ideas, and they were all over the place. So that was good, but also just the energy they brought in, you know, when you're when your client is a 2nd grader, there is just more care that you have to put in what you do, and you don't want to live them down," Professor Groenenboom said.

It was an approach that the 2nd graders thrived on.

“And they wanted to make all of these, you know, ideas that the 2nd graders came up with come to life. Well, the cool thing is, when you're second grader, you don't know what's possible and what's not possible. So your imagination is unlimited,” Sytsema said.

Never meeting face-to-face, the Calvin students built and presented actual prototypes of the Automata toys they designed.

“To watch the videos at the end, I think brought a lot of joy to our class, just to see how excited our user was at the end,” Conhoff said.

The different perspectives coming together, and in the end broadening the way everyone involved looks at design and the way things work.

“This just brought so much wonder and so much curiosity, and so much delight to our classroom. And in a hard year, I think that's a really beautiful, and a really hopeful thing," Sytsema said.