An earthquake tower stands firm through a rumbling simulation; a beam bridge carries its weight without failing: These structures could help Arlington Sam Houston High School students build futures that are just as solid.
The hands-on projects were part of a daylong event Friday called Viva Technology, at Remynse Church, across the street from the school. The event was sponsored by the General Motors Foundation, which is partnering with the school to support science, technology, engineering and math projects.
“We’ve been planning this all year,” Principal Fernando Benavides said as he looked over the tables of nine teams: about 50 Sam Houston students, plus college engineering students, Sam Houston teachers who volunteered at the event, General Motors engineers and others.
Student teams built beam bridges of metal slats and connectors, and earthquake towers of wood and glue, and they also learned about sought-after college majors, careers and typical salaries that are STEM-driven.
“I learned that the only way success comes before work is in the dictionary,” said Cortyvia Gillette, a sophomore who has dreamed of becoming a doctor since she was 12. “It definitely made me think about how I’m going to get where I’m going.”
She has added an alternate career choice in computer technology to her wish list.
Students were away from the campus for the day by design. They worked on their projects while music played, listened to the guest speakers and didn’t have to worry about grades. Pizza was served for lunch.
Marco Antunez, a freshman, said he aspires to be a mechanical engineer and is lining up the classes to make it happen.
“It’s going good today; it’s very fun for me,” he said of the morning’s work to build the earthquake towers. “We had some rough patches, but we got to it and made it work.”
The try-fail-try-again method left students with a clear impression of the nature of work in STEM fields.
“These are the techniques we should be using in the classroom all the time,” Benavides said. “They’re building confidence and enthusiasm. These Viva students will be going back to their class to become the team captains themselves.”
How tough was it?
Well, the chemical engineers team members’ hands were flying with 15 minutes to go in the bridge contest. They had followed the plans and were confident. They rushed the sections up to the judging table with time to spare but discovered two bolts missing. They dashed back to their table, quickly found new bolts and fixed it.
Then, before they could turn in their work, a facilitator announced suddenly that everyone would receive a new set of work orders. Take out the “faulty” red slats, he said, and replace them with others, all in the time left before testing. A murmur went up, and students began disconnecting sections and reconnecting others.
“They’re building leadership skills with this,” said John Juneau, who teaches advanced math in the school’s International Baccalaureate program. “It’s great to see a kid take over and self-correct in the middle of a problem.”