4th Grade MakerSpace Takes to the Slopes

While the Rockies are getting tons of snow, Regis 4th grade students are engineering new model 'ski lifts' in MakerSpace. During this school year, 4th grade has experienced both hands-on MakerSpace projects and computer based instruction such as programming. Recently, Regis MakerSpace teacher and Librarian, Mrs. Kaitlin Holy, found a fun project that tied into the current winter season and brought the focus back to hands-on engineering for 4th grade—build a model ski lift out of simple materials.

For this project, students formed small groups of 2 people to design and then build a model ski lift with a few key requirements. Students could only use the materials supplied to them. Each group received an identical bag of supplies containing items such as paper, Styrofoam cups, straws, string, egg cartons, wax paper, foil, and pipe cleaners. To build their project, the students had to incorporate a simple machine into their design to move two skiers (represented by glass beads) from a location on the ground to the seat of a chair located three feet away.

"They had to carefully and thoughtfully decide, plan and draw their design, then they had to defend their design to me before starting to build," said Mrs. Holy. "They can build in about 10 minutes, but they had to very carefully label what they were doing in order to get to the build stage."

Students first completed a short Nearpod.com lesson on simple machines so they could understand what elements they would need to incorporate into their planning. They incorporated simple machines such as a wheel and axle, a pulley system, and an inclined plane into their design plans.

"We're building a pulley for a ski lift, and right now, we're deciding if we're going to use these small egg cartons for the people to go in or we might use this cup," said Dhani Hogan, 4th grade student, as he and his partner debated supplies. "I think we can attach the egg carton to the string more easily," said his partner, Julian Laureles.

"It's all about simple machines. We're going to have a pulley," said 4th grade student Braxton Mandella. Braxton and his partner, Varick Whitney, used an incline plane to help pull their ski lift—two Styrofoam cups with the open ends taped together—from the ground to the seat of the library chair. Braxton and Varick engineered a hole between the cups for the skiers to get in and out of the lift too.

Mrs. Holy explained that some students' ideas to build the ski lift started out quite literal. "They wanted to design it to look exactly like a real ski lift until I said, 'You know, there is nothing to prevent you from using a lever to catapult the skiers onto the chair.' This made them break out of their original thinking."

After the students had a couple of class periods to work on their projects, Mrs. Holy added an extra challenge—if the lift can carry more than two passengers, each team can get an extra two points for each additional passenger.

"This whole project is about failing and trying again, and getting the students to think a little bit deeper about what they are creating," said Mrs. Holy. "They love anytime you give them a challenge." She is eager to see what the final ski lift projects will look like!