Wednesday November 20, 2013 was a special day for eighth graders in Mr. Montague’s CAD class at Felix Festa Middle School. During seventh period, These students actively participated in a Google Hangout (videoconference) with a group of pre-engineering students in the Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Dewitt, NY, a suburb of Syracuse to review and refine a mousetrap powered vehicle they were designing.
“My class is in the design stage of a Mousetrap Powered Vehicle project,” said Montague. “They have to design a vehicle that will travel the furthest distance using only the power in a single mousetrap.” The students shared their rough sketches and ideas with the high school pre-engineering students who reviewed their work and shared ideas based upon their engineering knowledge. The conferences were face-to-face and the designs visible to all participants despite the nearly 250 mile distance.
“Neither group of students had ever participated in an activity like the Hangout,” said Montague, “but they adapted right away. The engineering students discussed good friction and bad friction as well as how to manage them. They talked about torque, power, mass, and levers. They explained how to maximize the travel distance of the swing arm but warned about the tradeoffs.”
The collaboration between middle and high school students was a valuable experience in more than one way. Though the middle school students received authentic feedback and the high school students were able to serve as mentors in a real-life project, all participants learned valuable collaboration and communication skills. One high school student described the initial part of the Google Hangout as “hard and nerve wracking, but now that we know how to do it, we want to do it again.”
Collaborations such as these are valuable to our students and provide authentic exposure and practice mastering the skills they will need in college and the workplace. There is no fee for using the Google Hangout feature. “I view this as a much bigger success than I originally thought it was,” said Montague, and he is already planning future collaborations for the students he serves.