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Daylong workshop explores ballistic foodstuffs and other fascinating subjects at UW-Rock County

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Catherine W. Idzerda
February 12, 2012
— Leave it to the middle school brain to discover more effective ways to launch partially dried marshmallows through the air.

On Saturday, the UW-Rock County Continuing Education Department hosted middle school students for S.T.E.M, a daylong workshop that explored science, technology, engineering and mathematics.


Students could register for such sessions as “Who Ate My Lunch?” “The Mathematics of Symmetry,” “Make Green Energy: Hands-on Solar and Wind Power” and “Psychology Mind Games.”


UW-Platteville Assistant Professor of Engineering Anne-Marie Lerner taught “Food Wars,” the only class that allowed food to be flung through the air to aid learning.


It also exposed kids to basic ideas about momentum, potential energy, centrifugal force. It also promoted creativity and problem-solving skills.


“We want to show kids that engineering is fun,” Lerner said.


The first exercise involved making a catapult out of tongue depressors, rubber bands and plastic spoons. A pyramid-like structure provided the base. A plastic spoon rubber-banded to the contraption served as the drawing arm.


The loaded spoon was drawn back and released with a gentle click.


The result: ZING! Airborne marshmallows.


Some kids created a two-spoon catapult, hoping, perhaps for a patent and a military contract.


Others, such as Connor Peters, 14, Janesville, made rubber-band related modifications that increased acceleration and distance.


Then there was Warren Buchanan, 13, who created a catapult with a very short distance between draw and release. His spoon went “snap” instead of “click” and turned marshmallows into ballistic missiles.


Take cover.


As though this wasn’t enough coolness for an afternoon, Lerner set up a trebuchet, a small copy of the medieval siege weapon that flung flaming projectiles over castle walls. Many moviegoers have fond memories of the scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” when the French used a trebuchet to fling farm animals out of a castle to ward off the Pythons.


On Saturday, eggs were the weapons of choice.


Sara Weir, a UW-Platteville engineering student, reset the trebuchet while the kids named and renamed the egg that was about to be flung into oblivion.


“Goodbye Humpty Dumpty, you lived a nice life and now you’re going to die,” intoned Tabitha McKay, 12.


At the end of the day, many students said it was their favorite class.


“I’m liking this one,” Peters said.


Natashya Schultz, 14, said she wasn’t sure that the class would make her an engineer, but she wanted to use her creative, math and science skills to make the world better.


“I would like to make a new discovery, to find a problem and fix it to help people,” Schultz said. “That’s just how I roll.”



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