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Fourth-grader Rian Ward, left, and third-grader Jacob Major release their milk carton boats on a makeshift pond outside Falls City Elementary on Feb. 22 under the watchful eye of instructor Mike McConnell. The boys are part of McConnell's "Kids Invent" class through Falls City's Family Academic Clubs and Enrichment for Success (FACES) program.
March 05, 2013
FALLS CITY -- How does an empty whipping cream carton, a straw, a balloon, and duct tape make a toy boat?
Just ask the students in Falls City's Family Academic Clubs and Enrichment for Success (FACES) Kids Invent class. They used those everyday materials to create functioning boats.
The boats use the balloon, inflated through the straw, as the "engine." When released, the air escaping back through the straws propel the boats through the water.
After building the boats earlier in the week, on Feb. 22, the class tested them out in a makeshift "pond" -- a shallow wooden box lined with a tarp filled with water -- outside Falls City Elementary School.
The excitement was barely contained among the three boys at the class that day, third-graders Judah Morales and Jacob Major and fourth-grader Rian Ward. They were more than eager to take their inventions on a maiden voyage.
Class teacher Mike McConnell had to work hard to keep their attention on the task at hand.
"Hey, don't get ahead of yourselves," McConnell said as Ward released his boat into the water. "You're giving it away ahead of time."
Ward laughed with delight as his air-powered boat motored through the water, kicking up a tiny rooster tail.
McConnell, with the assistance of his son and daughter, Ethan and Tia McConnell, both seniors at Falls City High School, intended to have the boys race their boats.
"Put them against the side and don't let go until we say so," McConnell instructed Major and Ward after they inflated their boats' balloons. "Make sure to aim them. ... And go!"
They release the boats. Ward's wins in the first race, but Major isn't ready to admit his boat is the slower one.
On the second race a bad start makes the boats run into each other. Major's hits Ward's and spins it around.
"Hey! He's turning me around! He's turning me around," Ward yells in mock dismay.
Majors just laughs.
Neither boat reaches the other side of the pond, but winning isn't the object of the class.
"What I'm trying to accomplish is picking out the projects where they could go home, find the materials at their house, and be able to put something together," McConnell said. "It's learning to improvise, to keep themselves occupied at home, and make their own toys."
McConnell said his goal is to give students the foundation to begin designing their own ideas. The concepts are beginning to sink in.
Third-grader Judah Morales watches as his "gravity boat" -- a pair of Styrofoam plates and a cup -- propels itself via a straw and water down the length of the pond.
McConnell tested his students' toy boat engineering knowledge and quizzed them on the process all inventors go through.
"When you come up with an idea and you build it, what is that called?" he asked.
"A prototype!" the boys answered, nearly in unison.
"Then what do you do after you build it?" he asked.
"Test it out!" they responded.
Moving on from the balloon boats, McConnell had the boys test their "gravity boats," made by taping two Styrofoam plates together bottomside out and gluing a cup to the top. A hole is drilled into the cup and a straw placed through it, one end in the cup and the other in the water.
A gravity boat's engine? Water.
The boys placed water in the cup, which flows through the straw pushing the boat forward, just like the air in the balloon.
One gravity boat is clearly faster than the other.
"Why do you think it moves better?" McConnell asked, quizzing them again.
"Volume," Ward responded, referring to the bigger width of the straw on the quicker boat. More water flowing through the straw moves the boat faster.
"Volume, very good," McConnell said.
As a reward for their ingenuity, the boys are able to take their boats home.
"It's really fun," Ward said of the class. "Mr. McConnell is really smart."