MOUNT VERNON — Eighth-graders at Mount Vernon Middle School received a crash course in constructing an electric generator Thursday and Friday afternoon, when former Siemens mechanical engineer John Myers visited their science classes to instruct on electricity and magnetism.
Siemens engineers have been visiting the eighth-grade science classes since 2014, explained Kristin Samples, coordinating teacher and science department head. She explained that this project came about to align with Ohio eighth-grade physical science standards, specifically content geared towards electricity and magnetism through electromagnets, generators and motors.
She explained that these content areas were not previously taught at MVMS, so activities and materials for them were basically nonexistent. Samples, knowing Siemens worked to create generators, and using her connections with the company, thought to herself, “how better to learn about generators than to have experts in our community teach us?”
Her connections brought her to Devin Hilty, a mechanical engineer with Siemens, who not only wanted to provide instruction in the new content standards, but also wanted to teach students to build their own mini generators.
Another one of those community experts, Myers, was a co-organizer of Siemens STEM organization, a science education initiative at the company that worked to include STEM education in local schools or bring local schools into the Siemens campus for field trips and instruction.
The sessions Thursday and Friday were in 88-minute blocks for the students, with the first half of the block led by Myers as an instructional review on invisible forces, such as electricity and magnetism, as well as how those forces relate to generators and motors. The second half of the block was devoted to hands-on learning as students worked collaboratively to create their own mini generators using wooden blocks, nails and coils.
“Engineering, and really everything we can put our hands on, is science related,” Myers said. “And there is such a huge shortage of engineers out there, and it’s such a great, rewarding career, if I can spark their interest in science, it doesn’t even have to be engineering related, there’s just so many other avenues that they can go into.”
Myers explained that the hands-on element of the project keeps the students engaged and fascinated by what they are learning.
“I think they learn better with what they can see and put their hands on,” he said. “And when they’re successful in the end, you can see it in their face, the ‘hey it worked, I actually did something and it worked.’”
Myers, who studied mechanical engineering at Ohio Northern University, was the Manager of Research and Development at Siemens. He wanted to be involved in this project, he explained, to create a lasting impression of science enthusiasm for the students.
“The biggest thing I hope they get is some of my enthusiasm and enjoyment of science,” Myers said. “Whatever the topic we’re going over, in this case magnetism or generating electricity, if they can pick up one or two little things, that when they do their state tests, maybe they’ll remember a hands-on experiment. Maybe they’ll say, ‘Oh I understand what we’re doing here.’ Taking a principle, some kind of engineering phenomenon or physics phenomenon, and applying it to something they can visualize, I think makes it good for them.”
The electric generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, Myers explained, which the students were able to see and build in their hands-on session. Students who were ahead of the pack were also able to create an electric motor, which does the exact opposite of a generator, Myers said, as it takes electric energy and converts it to mechanical energy.
Additionally, students were able to play with magnets, Myers said, and he also demonstrated static electricity, and how electrons are moved from one object to another, using the classic balloon and hair trick.
“I think that anytime students can be exposed to hands-on, real-world experiences, that it enhances their learning,” Samples said. “It puts them in touch with what’s happening in the real world so that they can make a connection with it and connect with it on a personal level. And if they can connect with it, they’ll remember it. So, it brings meaning to it, when they have an opportunity to connect to it with hands-on learning.”