It’s not every day you walk into the Mattapoisett Free Public Library and see helicopters flying around, but on Tuesday, July 31, that’s exactly what happened. The helicopters were part of Dr. Martin Hudis’ Extreme Engineering program for children.
“The whole takeaway of this program is that science can be fun,” said Dr. Hudis, who holds a Ph.D in physics and teaches at UMass Dartmouth. “The activities were about having fun and not realizing that you’re learning.”
Tuesday evening was the final of a four-part series in which Hudis instructed 12 students in grades 4-6 valuable lessons in math, science, engineering and technology. On the final evening, the children and their parents gathered around to see if their hard work paid off.
One of the tasks the children were given in week 3 was to construct a helicopter landing pad that could hold a remote controlled helicopter for 30 seconds and also withstand a significant amount of weight. The students divided into groups to design and construct the landing pads.
The catch, however, is that they had to use the materials they were given in a brown paper bag. The materials included 3×5 inch index cards, a ruler, bamboo poles and tape. The landing pads had to be between one and two feet tall.
“What was really interesting is that we had four really different designs,” said Hudis. “They all had good clever approaches. They all thought about it very hard, looked at all the materials and thought how they could utilize it.”
After the landing pad tests, the students dispersed around the library for a variety of different activities which all included maneuvering the remote controlled helicopters in different scenarios. While each activity boasted a different outcome, the underlying lesson was the same.
‘We are trying to show the students that science and math are fun and if they get interested at this age, history says they’ll keep following it,” said Hudis. “We also want to show that girls are just as involved in science and math as boys are. It’s no longer a male-dominated field.”
For the students, their favorite part of the evening was trying to destroy their helicopter pads. They stacked on the books until each of the pads collapsed. Only one of the four pads remained in tact when six books were placed on top of it. When Hudis sees the kids getting excited and hears their cheers, he knows his work is done.
“I like watching kids getting excited about it, that it’s fun, that it’s not just a geeky kind of thing, and that if it’s something that you really enjoy, you should pursue it,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can pick up from this. You don’t realize it but two to three months later, you’ll hear someone say something and you’ll realize that they really did learn something.”
By Katy Fitzpatrick