Waterslide challenge equals STEM fun

Year 8 students Clare Casha and Charlton Lu embraced their school’s waterslide design STEM challenge. Photo: Kitty Beale

Clancy Catholic College West Hoxton collaborated with The University of Sydney’s STEM Teacher Enrichment Academy to give students a true STEM challenge using the scope and expertise they already had.

All Year 8 students at the school designed and built prototype waterslides using minimal materials ahead of a Science Week showcase of their work on 15 August.

The challenge was equal parts Science, Mathematics, and Technology and Applied Studies [TAS]. Subject coordinators planned and launched the challenge together in Term 2 this year after a three-day workshop at the Academy, which supports teachers to expose primary and high school students to STEM and help build career pathways in the subject.

It really gave you an opportunity to push boundaries.

– Clare Casha

Clancy’s waterslide project was unusual in both its scope and simplicity compared to other schools’ Academy projects, which often withdrew a select group of students from their regular Maths and Science classes.

The teachers involved honed their ideas through consultation with the University’s Engineering, Science and Technology professors. Teacher in charge of innovation Josh Dwyer said Clancy’s project looked at what parts of each curriculum aligned naturally but were taught separately.

“We all wanted it to be a sustainable project that we wouldn’t have to reinvent to continue,” he said. “In TAS, we looked at the project in terms of the design process which is very closely linked to innovation and materials. Science did the research and legwork, so when students got to us we were able to take them straight through to design, ideation and the production process.

“Evaluation included the collection of data, which is where they pulled the Maths concepts in to convert distance and time into a speed calculation. That was a unit Maths teachers were able to move from later in the year to support the project.”

Science Coordinator Grace Mamo said the project allowed students to experience STEM in action before they made elective subject choices for Year 9. She said the project aligned with a unit on forces including friction and gravity.

“It also drew on the working scientifically skill of how we explain what is going on in the world around us and how we can use scientific language and process to explain a particular concept,” she said. “The benefit of the Academy was to get the planning time and exposure to workshops outside of our faculty area to see where it all aligned.”

We all wanted it to be a sustainable.

– Josh Dwyer

Maths Coordinator Greg Georgiou said the project was easily embraced.

“It was quite natural,” he said.  “We taught them how to calculate rates, distance and time, then it was up to them to link that skill and bring it when they were working in Science and testing their model.”

The challenge

Students received a pegboard, a marble, cable ties, and corrugated, rigid and foam pipes. Their aim was to get the marble to travel the least amount of distance and exit the pipe.

Charlton Lu’s group used cable ties to give their prototype additional support and added a jump to the slide as a point of difference.

“It was quite interesting,” he said. “It was a lot of Science because we had to figure out the different forces in the slide. We had to work out if one side had enough gravitational force to push the marble to a higher part of the slide. For Maths, we had to figure out different angles for the slide to make sure the marble could fly out. For TAS it was the design.”

Clare Casha, 14, said she enjoyed the experience of working with new people and chance to hone her problem-solving skills. She said it had been good to see Science and Maths in the context of the project.

“It really gave you an opportunity to push boundaries, learn new skills and extend on the knowledge you already had,” she said.

“Starting off we didn’t have a very slanted drop, our slide was fairly vertical so our marble didn’t gain too much momentum. We had to have two directional changes using our corrugated pipe, which was our fastest pipe. We changed to a rigid pipe, then a foam pipe, because the increased friction slows it down.”


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