Engineering dynamos


How do you turn a sheet of white paper into a feat of engineering? 

Students at Ina Arbuckle Elementary can show you. 

The process starts with an idea for a drawing – say, a heart, a tree or a car – and a pen with conductive ink.

"It's like a roller point pen, but it has 20 percent silver in the ink so it will conduct electricity," said Jason Atkinson, second-grade teacher and technology coordinator at Ina Arbuckle Elementary. 

After students carefully sketch an image and add LED bulbs, the ink provides a conduit for electricity to flow from a battery pack to the tiny lights.  The result: a striking, illuminated image.

The creative engineering is so strong that Mr. Atkinson's students will present the project – named Electric STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) – at the CUE Student-Powered Showcase on March 18 in Palm Springs.  The audience will comprise more than 6,000 educators.

The attendees, convened by the technology-education nonprofit CUE, will see a project running not just on batteries, but also on student ingenuity.  Drawings to date have included hearts adorned with red lights; LED bulbs shining on periods between students' initials; and a car with small lights gleaming as headlights and taillights – and tiny fans with electric motors to spin the wheels. 

"Give them something interesting and the next thing you know, they take it to a whole new level," Mr. Atkinson said.

A few of the second-graders taught the concept this month at the Inland Empire Technology Leadership Network meeting, the teacher added.  The Ina students demonstrated Electric STEAM to the assembled group, then helped some of the adults produce luminous sketches of their own.  Occasionally, a gap in the ink would cause a setback. 

"People were amazed that when there was trouble with the circuits, the kids would sit and work and work and work until they got it right," Mr. Atkinson said.

Indeed, students learn problem solving, troubleshooting, and perseverance through projects such as Electric STEAM, the teacher said.  They also build confidence in areas of oral language and critical thinking, and the circuit work helps lay early groundwork for careers in electrical engineering and computer science.

Teacher helping student with projectAt the upcoming CUE Student-Powered Showcase, four students will provide a live demonstration of the concept and then help adults sketch their own electric images.  Mr. Atkinson selected the young presenters based on their interest in the project, and for their poise in front of large groups.

Three other JUSD contingents will attend the showcase as well, Mr. Atkinson said.  Students of Mr. Jose Ramirez, of Mission Middle, and Ms. Mary Ward and Ms. Elizabeth Wells, both of Mira Loma Middle, also will share technology projects.

This is the second time Mr. Atkinson's students were invited to demonstrate before educators at CUE.  At last year's event, Ina Arbuckle students showed educators how to program robots to draw pictures.  And with 7,000 conference attendees strolling through the conference halls, the students' table saw a steady stream of visitors.

"It's great watching them interact with grown-ups and professionals, and see the students really hold their interest and hold their own," Mr. Atkinson said.  "Think about it: An 8-year-old is teaching a Ph.D. how to code, and how to get a robot to do what they want it to.  It's amazing."

The CEO and organizer of the conference was among those who took a turn at Ina Arbuckle's table last year, Mr. Atkinson said.  When the leader's project was a success, he credited the young student who had coached him through the process.  "He said, 'I had a great teacher' – and you should have seen her face light up."