Eighth-graders in Frankie Urquhart's science class at Schoenbar Middle School recently faced a new challenge — assembling a miniature motorized cargo plane sturdy enough to carry a number of pennies in the classroom.
The project helps students practice using the scientific method to define and solve problems, Urquhart explained in a recent interview with the Daily News.
"The challenge was to build a plane that could carry the highest number of pennies," she said.
Urquhart continued, "And so the kids had to use their knowledge of electricity to wire their own cargo planes and talk about aerodynamics. ... They used the scientific method to make modifications and try to build the planes that would carry the highest number of pennies."
The students had the choice to work individually or in pairs, and all were given the same materials — foam for the fuselage and wings, a small kit motor to wire for the engine, and some landing gear to affix to the body of the plane.
Urquhart provided the class with two optional blueprints, but it wasn't required to use those instructions.
"They also can go alone and find their own blueprint, or they can design their own and engineer their own blueprint," she said.
No matter how the students chose to construct their plane, each product turned out different from the next.
"It's interesting," Urquhart said. "When two kids, two different groups, follow the same blueprint, they are never the same. All of the planes look a little bit different and that's what makes them really cool and unique."
The project takes two or three weeks to complete.
"It's a good time for me and for them. It's a great use of scientific method because if it fails, you have to figure out how to fix it," said Urquhart. "And if it is succeeding, you want to continue to make it better. So what do you do to make it better?"
But the project comes with frustrations as the students attempt to create the best version of their plane.
"That's part of the process," Urquhart explained. "And that's what I tell them, 'One of the great things about this project for me, is that you guys are going to get super frustrated and that's OK, and you're going to come back and look back at it in a different way, and that's what scientists do."
And by the time the challenge came to an end, most of the planes were able to take flight when the class tested their creations.
"When they work that hard to have a plane that never gets off the ground, that is really frustrating and it's really hard," Urquhart said. "So luckily, most of the students would help each other out. And having the plane get off the ground, you can see the pure joy in their face, which is so cool."
The plane that won first place — built by the pair of Jessica Vong and Neila Urquhart — carried 21 pennies.
Three students, Drake Handly and the team of Brenna Winder and Nissa Trotter, tied for second place, with their planes carrying 18 pennies.
In third place were Ava Weimer and Abby Hurlbutt, with a plane that carried 17 pennies.
"They walk away looking pretty proud of themselves, and I think they should be," Urquhart said. "Because it's a pretty cool accomplishment."