Engineering Family Day 2016 and Other Great U of T Programs

by: Nina S Rafeek

The University of Toronto Engineering Outreach Family Day is open to all children and grandchildren (K-gr8), of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering staff and faculty. It is a full day program, filled with activities designed to encourage students to get interested and excited about the STEM disciplines.  This year’s activities were held on Friday June 10, 2016.

After a successful first year, the event has returned for a second time.  The “Indy 500” car building and racing activity was “a huge hit with the kids” says Samantha Presutto, Jr. DEEP team leader.

The morning activities included Coding Workshops “Binary to Beyond” and “Level Up with CS”.  In the afternoon, students participated in “Extreme Roller Coasters”, “Beams and Bridges”, “Alarm Systems” and “Creature Creations”.  Activities were picked from the Jr. DEEP summer academy, which is an engineering enrichment program, designed for high school students with an aptitude for science and math.  They are scaled down to coincide with the curriculum of the elementary student’s respective grade.  The activities are facilitated by undergraduate students in the STEM programs.

In the coding workshops, students were introduced to the logic behind computer programming without the actual use of computers.  Instead, they engaged in games designed to show them the kind of inputs and outputs that are required to program computers. “The activity is only 2 hours, so the idea is to make it fun and engaging and get across as many concepts as possible in a hands-on learning kind of way” says Samantha.

The Kindergarten students did the “Extreme Roller Coaster” activity in the afternoon.  It is designed to introduce the concepts of forces, motion and structural stability, and how it all comes together to build large standing structures, like rollercoasters.

In alarm systems, the students from grades 1 to 8 learned about circuits, electricity and its application using buzzers and lightbulbs. They also had the opportunity to create their own alarm system so they can protect their pencil case, for example, and a switch mechanism to control when they want to turn the alarm on or off.  “It’s fun and we get to learn something new!” says Adrien, a participant in the 6th grade.

The Creature and Creations activity was introduced with Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection, specifically, the variation of the finches on Galápagos Islands.  Each student made their own replica of a finch’s beak out of Styrofoam cups, popsicle sticks, plastic spoons and forks, rubber bands and tape.  When they were finished, they tested their creations to see how many marbles they can pick up in one spot using their new model.

Anne, a 3rd grade student, combined the plastic spoons and forks with tape.  Her creation was a success as she was able to gather the most marbles.  Anne describes her creative process: “It’s hard to make a design that works.  I saw a spoon and I saw the forks, then I came up with it!”

Kevin Kong, the activity facilitator, explains: “The idea is to learn how evolutionary advantage helps in nature.  We talk about the engineering design process by creating a simulated beak…so they can infer what would work in the engineering design process by testing their creations against biology.”  Kevin, of Binghamton University in New York, was sent here by his professor who had participated in the DEEP program as an activity facilitator when he was Kevin’s age.  His professor is looking into incorporating this program at his University.

The return of this event was a hit.  The children were able to interact with each other and got a taste of what their parents are up to during the day…naturally, some of them were exhausted!

“It was a success; there was a lot of friendly competition and many good projects were created.  I think it may become a tradition!”, says Samantha.

For more opportunities such as this please check out the DEEP Academy

DEEP Summer Academy