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By Adam Orr | GoUpstate.com

Pine Street Elementary’s cafeteria came alive Thursday as a make-shift hovercraft laboratory for the school’s fifth-graders.

Think of it as a hands-on, quick-start project designed to drive home the kinds of science and math skills students will need to embrace in the 21st Century.

With chairs and tables cleared away, students took battery-powered leaf blowers and combined them with a few household items to create mini-hovercrafts that they piloted back and forth across the floor.

There was plenty of squeals and laughter from the youngsters as they wobbled the unstable crafts around the room, but there were also a few tears.

The latter came from Pine Street Elementary Music Specialist Lori Patterson, who was so struck by the way students were engrossed in the project, she became emotional.

Pine Street Elementary’s cafeteria came alive Thursday as a make-shift hovercraft laboratory for the school’s fifth-graders.

Think of it as a hands-on, quick-start project designed to drive home the kinds of science and math skills students will need to embrace in the 21st Century.

With chairs and tables cleared away, students took battery-powered leaf blowers and combined them with a few household items to create mini-hovercrafts that they piloted back and forth across the floor.

There was plenty of squeals and laughter from the youngsters as they wobbled the unstable crafts around the room, but there were also a few tears.

The latter came from Pine Street Elementary Music Specialist Lori Patterson, who was so struck by the way students were engrossed in the project, she became emotional.

“Look at their faces,” Patterson said. “Look at the way they’re lit up. There are kids here who have no idea why they might want to pay attention to math or science, but I think that’s a connection that’s being made right now. This is my favorite day of the entire school year.”

Pine Street Elementary fifth-grade teacher Susan Hoffman said 2018 marks the second time the school has hosted hovercraft building day, a project-based learning exercise created by Matt Chase of Chase Educational Consulting.

Chase, a former fifth-grade teacher, said the initial idea was posed by one of his former students more than a decade ago as a class project. Think of it as one part science experiment, one part construction project, and one part leadership challenge.

Classes are broken up into groups of seven to eight students and each is given assigned roles: artist, biographer, measurers and skirt cutters, data analyzers and recorders, safety officers and test pilots.

By the end of the day, students had built their own hovercrafts and the room erupted as multiple leaf blowers came to life at once. Students piloted their new rides across the room before asking — and sometimes begging — their teachers and parents to go for a spin.

Chase used the craft to outline basic physics concepts like Newton’s laws of motion. By attaching leaf blowers to the rear and sides of the craft, orienting their nozzles in different directions, students could speed up, slow down or spin in place.

Hoffman said the project becomes a backdoor STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — lesson for her students.

“It’s a really fun experience, and kids are using their critical thinking skills, and they get to explore a little creativity,” Hoffman said. “But the best part is that they don’t even know they’re learning. They’re out here having fun, but they’re soaking it up.”

She said the lesson provides a framework to build on for the remainder of the year.

“They’re collaborating, solving problems,” Hoffman said. “We’re hoping this will be the start of something.”

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