Return to Headlines

Using engineering for the holidays

Arlington Heights, IL – Winter break is underway here in District 25, and students across the District are enjoying time at home, playing outside, visiting with family, or perhaps they are working on the winter-themed STEM activities introduced right before break.

At Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School, for example, two 2nd grade classes were each given a winter challenge combining the method of personalized learning with the structure of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

One of the tasks asked students to create a zip-line car that would safely transport their “elf on the shelf” from one end of the line to the next. The other task asked students to create a home for their ice cube, posing as a snowman that would keep it safe from melting on a hot surface. They were allowed to use generic household items that were supplied.

Both tasks, put together by Advanced Learning Facilitators Shannon Watanuki and Lynnae Jenkins, encouraged students to come up with their own solution using the six elements of personalized learning – question, imagine, plan, create, test, improve, and present.

“Part of the design process is asking important questions,” Watanuki said. “Our goal is to expose our young students to the engineering and design process and hopefully make it fun so they are inspired to build at home.”

Students worked in groups for both activities, often giving one another feedback and listening to all ideas. There was a sense of collaboration and teamwork as each student watched what others were doing and assessed whether that would be a good idea to implement on their design.

For example, after the second round of testing his zip line second grader William realized how he could improve his design to help his elf safely land. William told Watanuki that he was inspired for his new design after watching a different group safely land their elf.

“Engineers work in teams,” Watanuki told the class. “You can combine your ideas and come up with even greater solutions.”


Students watch and hope their elf stays in zip-line car they engineered.    This group of three landed their zip-line car successfully!

These students are working hard to design their zip-line car.    This groups "snowman" didn't melt! They designed a great home.

Adam Harris