Perhaps the Tazewell children participating in Coaster Chaos in late-June will not decide to become roller coaster designers when they reach adulthood.
They will, however, learn about engineering, which is an important and fairly lucrative discipline in the modern job market. A University of Illinois Extension - Tazewell County event, Coaster Chaos will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. June 28 at the Pekin Public Library. It will give area children in third through sixth grades enrolled in 4-H programs with Illinois Extension an opportunity to apply concepts like motion, gravity and centrifugal force in a hands-on format. Each participant will build a model thrill ride using provided materials.
According to recent statistics from indeed.com, the average salary for a U.S. engineer is $86,814. Emily Schoenfelder, 4-H youth development educator for the University of Illinois Extension, believes that many parents who profess they lack aptitude in such disciplines as science, technology, engineering and mathematics can inadvertently teach their children that such areas are too difficult for them to learn. That attitude, she added, can stunt a child’s educational development and their professional options when they enter the work force as adults.
“Every time adults in a child’s life say ‘I can’t do this, I’m just not a science person or a math person,’ it gives them feedback like ‘this is too hard for me to learn,’” Schoenfelde said. “It can really stunt what we call a growth mindset. It can stunt their ability to want to learn new things.”
Schoenfelder added: “There’s not a lot of lecture they have to sit through. It’s not about cramming science concepts down their throats. It’s allowing them to build and learn as they go.”
All coasters built must include at least one loop and one turn, Schoenfelder said. Illinois Extension will provide each aspiring engineer with pipe insulation and masking tape for their construction materials. Participants may use the room’s furniture or walls as supports for their structures, but cannot use building materials other than those provided.
“They are not building full-sized roller coasters,” Schoenfelder joked. “I think we’d run out of space.”
Coaster Chaos is part of the Extension’s 4-H Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Outreach program. The facility developed the program in an effort to generate interest in and positive attitudes toward STEM disciplines. According to Schoenfelder, it is the first of two STEM Outreach events taking place at the library this summer.
“(The other activity) will be Eggshellent Design, which will happen July 12 from 1 to 2:30 (p.m.), also for third through sixth graders,” Schoenfelder said. “Kids will be using the engineering design cycle (a problem-solving tool used by engineers for design and construction) to develop a way to keep a raw egg safe when it’s dropped from a height. (Both Coaster Chaos and Eggshellent Design involve) using problem solving skills, creativity and everyday objects.”
Schoenfelder stressed that Coaster Chaos is an exposition rather than a competition. There will be facilitators rather than contest judges and every participant will be treated as a winner.
“Projects like this can help people understand (that) their attitudes or beliefs about what science or STEM fields are can be a little bit wrong,” she said. “They can find fun ways where anyone can be engaged in this. We can teach kids it’s important to continue to learn and believe they can learn anything, as opposed to believing anything is just too hard for them to even try.”