NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In a summer science class, as soon-to-be sixth-graders created towers of straws, cardboard and pins, student Alexandra Fernandes invented one innovative way to keep a ping-pong ball from bouncing out of the container on the top. She folded the flexible sections of straws into a protective roof for the ball. That would be key when her team's tower took its turn on the earthquake machine to see how much shaking it could stand.
That was just one way that the 40 students found to ensure that the small, loosely placed sphere stayed in place.
"It teaches me that there are a lot of options to use," Fernandes said. "You're not limited."
The budding engineers are taking the introductory Young Engineers School program as they prepare to enter Albert Leonard or Isaac E. Young middle schools in September. Earlier, students already in the middle schools spent two of their summer weeks in the science and engineering program. In all, about 148 students enrolled.
Technology Education teacher Stephen G. May, who leads the classes at ALMS, encourages them to think creatively.
"I want them to understand the importance of applied math and science - how do math and science work for us?" he said. "By doing a series of experiments and activities, they can see how that works."
They create rockets out of bottles and cardboard tubes, build and operate solar-powered cars and operate AL-BOT, ALMS' five-foot-tall humanoid robot. (The metal mascot, who can move forward and backward, raise arms and shake its head, was funded by the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence and the ALMS PTA.)
In some activities, students are required to "buy" materials with play money (with Mr. May's face on it) to learn that real-life engineers don't operate on limitless budgets.
"The challenge is in building when you have only a certain amount of materials," said student Alex Tetro.
The students chose to try the experiments and activities during summer days when others have time off from class.
"I just want to experience and try new stuff," said Dylan Kelly, who finished fifth grade at William Ward Elementary School in the spring and wants to get a jump on his next year. "I want to know how it's going to be a sixth grader."
For Fernandes, the program might lead to a career. She can see herself as an engineer someday.
"I would want to invent things," she said. "That would be cool."