Balloon-powered cars teach future engineers about speed, velocity

From AAPSNews Service

Clusters of fifth-graders in the Burns Park Elementary auditorium were testing their talent and teamwork as balloon-powered cars zipped along the floor. They measured velocity, length of travel and logged results with the help of staff from the Toyota Technical Center, based in Ann Arbor and York Township.

Students measure a balloon that will power their small car as part of "A World in Motion" program at Burns Park Elementary. Ten Ann Arbor schools take part in the program through eight different corporate partners.

Herb Meingast, Meg Wallace and Chris Alexander were assisting students in Sandy Kreger’s homeroom class. In addition to working for Toyota, Meingast and Wallace are also Burns Park parents.

Alexander got right down on the floor, helping students get their cars test-ready. He said was enjoying his first visit to the school and his first time volunteering in a school program called “A World in Motion” program.

“I thought it would be a lot of fun,” he said. “And children have that imagination to see how things really work – it’s been great to watch them.”

Kreger teaches science to all fifth-graders at Burns Park and said the program has been a good learning tool. “It parallels directly with the curriculum,” she said. “They supplement what we do. They have been incredible.”

“A World in Motion,” is funded through the Society of Automotive Engineers Foundation for Science and Technology and is designed to stimulate interest among young technology leaders of the future. The once-a-week program runs from April through the end of school.

According to Toyota’s Andrea Frederick, who coordinates volunteers for the program, staff members from the Ann Arbor-area Toyota Technical Center facilities are visiting Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Saline, Milan and Farmington districts. “Toyota has been a … very, very big proponent of the program,” she said. “Once we get started in a school, the program tends to stay, which is really great.”

Toyota's Chris Alexander helps a student with her balloon-powered car.

According to the SAW, 10 Ann Arbor schools participate in “A World in Motion” through eight different partners, including Toyota. They include:
Allen Elementary partners with Toyota.
Ann Arbor Open @ Mack partners with General Motors and GM FST Warranty Engineering.
Burns Park Elementary partners with Toyota Technical Center USA.
Dicken Elementary partners with Toyota.
Eberwhite Elementary partners with Toyota.
King Elementary partners with General Motors, Quantum Signal LLC, GM FST Warranty Engineering and The University of Michigan.
Lawton Elementary partners with Toyota, Washtenaw Community College, General Motors and Quantum Signal.
Northside Elementary partners with Toyota.
Thurston Elementary partners with Toyota.
Wines Elementary partners with Quantum Signal.

Since 1990, more than 4 million students have participated in the AWIM program in the United States and Canada. The program provides activity kits and coordinates volunteers for school classrooms; staff can include employees with talents in a variety of areas. More than 20,000 professionals have volunteered over the past 20 years.

Programs are in place for students in grades K-12 and can include lessons in design, electricity, force and friction, circuitry, fuel cells and semiconductors and digital integrated circuits.

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Toyota engineer thanks students for the experience

The following letter was received by Sandy Kreger, Burns Park Elementary fifth-grade science teacher, who worked with Toyota and the “World in Motion” program. Toyota  engineers worked with all three of the Burns Park fifth-graders, about 70 students in all. It is from Chris Alexander, one of the Toyota engineers who participated in the project:

Hello Ms. Kreger and the Burns Park 5th grade class,

Let me start by thanking each of you for your efforts in the last 8 weeks. I was very proud of each student to see how much they learned and was pleasantly surprised with each of your presentations.

The goal I had coming to your class was to teach you how to use your innovation and creativity in creating the Jet toy. With each student I saw you start from assembling a prototype and trying to understand the purpose of each instruction to junior engineers telling me how you made your vehicle work and why! Each of your efforts was displayed in your AWESOME toys you created, Great Job.

At the end of the presentations each of you had shared with Herb and I what it was you learned from us, but I didn’t have the opportunity to share what it was I learned for each of you.

Each and every one of you (students and Ms. Kreger) taught me what it was like to be creative and innovative again. You also showed me how important each of you will be to our future.

As you get older you will get instructions from teachers, students, Boss’s, and fellow co-workers; each of them will teach you a way they have completed a project in the past. What I saw in each of you that will separate you from the rest of the world is that when you were given instruction you used those instructions and found ways to make it better. This country was built by pioneers, people that used their knowledge, creativity and innovation to become who we are today. Throughout your life will be faced with many obstacles that you may think are impossible to over come. Remember that nothing is impossible when you put your heart and mind into it.

I wish you all the best in your future and hope that one day I will be seeing each of your innovations and your creativity pioneering a better place for all of us to live.

Yours truly,
Christopher Paul Alexander

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