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Students study science first-hand

TERI VANCE
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Mrs. Morrison's fourth-grade students listen to Diana Easby explain the use of hydrolics in her classroom at Frisch Elementary School Tuesday.
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A s scientists are evaluating pictures taken by Mars landers Opportunity and Spirit, Fritsch Elementary School fourth-grader Peter Brinson was gaining a greater appreciation of the skills it takes to operate the rovers.

“It’s not as easy as you think,” said the 9-year-old. “You look at it and think, ‘I could do that,’ but it’s really hard to control. It kept on running into things and tipping up.”

Each fourth-grader got the chance to maneuver a less-sophisticated replica of the rovers as part of the Junior Engineering program brought to the school Tuesday from Utah State University.

“It’s tough, you’re going to find out how tough this is,” explained teacher Clay Soderstrom after showing the students an introductory video featuring pictures taken from the rovers. “It will not go over the rocks like it did in the movie. It’s not that fancy.”

Four stations were set up for each grade level ranging from an exploration of colors and bubbles in the lower grades to studying the science behind building retaining walls in the upper grades.

Nancy Yamamoto was introduced to the program while at a state convention for members of local parent-teacher associations. She brought the idea back to her school and was pleased with the results.

“The best thing I can say about it is when you walk down the halls and hear all the ‘Oohs and Aahs’ you know that the kids are engaged and learning something,” she said.

Teachers were given instructional kits then taught the workshop as students rotated.

Diana Easby taught the difference between pneumatics and hydraulics, then led students through activities where they learned to control a robotic arm through hydraulic pressure.

“It’s the best way to learn science, to let them play with things,” she said. “The kids are so energetic. You can see on their faces, they’re so concentrated but so alive.”

The arm was connected to tubes of different-colored water which controlled different movements.

Students experimented with controlling movement through varying the pressure from the different sources.

“I’ve learned that you can move things with liquid,” said Taylor McAninch, 10. “It’s been really fun because it’s challenging.”

The project also stressed communication and teamwork by including activities where students had to work together to complete a task.

As part of the Mars mission, students commanded the rovers through the computer to traverse a meter-long course, avoiding meteors and craters set up as obstacles.

While one student entered the commands, others gave silent directions to students who passed the information along to the drivers.

“It took teamwork,” said Gabrielle Savoie, 10. “You needed directions and stuff like that.”

Contact Teri Vance at tvance@nevadaappeal.com or at 881-1272.