Students test handmade water wheels at engineering competition

With help from her teammates Wednesday, Trinity Foulds hustled to pour liquid onto the blades of the water wheel they built with cardboard, wood and plastic cups.
The four seventh-graders at Western Wayne Middle School scrambled to keep the water coming as their wheel spun. A judge counted the wheel’s rotations as a 30-second timer ticked toward zero in the North Pocono Middle School science lab where they gathered for an engineering competition rooted in local history.

Made possible by a $725 grant from the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, Wednesday’s competition saw 15 or so middle school students from four schools districts — North Pocono, Western Wayne, Forest City Regional and Wayne Highlands — test the efficiency of water wheels they spent months making. The water wheel angle harkens back to the early days of Moscow, which borough Councilman Marc Gaughan said was once home to at least five working water mills.

“We wanted a connection to local history,” North Pocono Middle School science teacher Michelle Swarts said of the contest, noting students were given dimensions for either a small-scale or large-scale water wheel and chose their own building materials. “Old Mill Park was recently dedicated in the borough … and so we though: “No one’s ever done water wheels before, let’s do that.’ It incorporates simple machines, which is a concept in our science curriculum.”
The project also involved many elements of science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, commonly known as STEM; students designed and engineered the waterwheels themselves.
“I mostly enjoyed the building of the water wheel itself and just working with my team,” North Pocono seventh grader Alex Iannone said. “We put a lot of hard work into this.”

Alex’s team used scrap wood to build their wheel, which won first place in the large-scale water wheel category. The Wayne Highlands team, who built their wheel using a 3-D printer, won first place in the small-scale category.
And while Wednesday’s event was competitive, it was also collaborative, as students from the four schools participated together in several science-related activities after testing their water wheels. One challenged students to levitate pingpong balls by blowing through drinking straws — a lesson in Bernoulli’s principle.
Wayne Highlands seventh graders Eve Rogers and Gopi Patel said they enjoyed working with kids from the other schools. Wayne Highlands technology and engineering teacher Christopher Piasecki said it was a good life lesson.
“It’s very real world, because they’re not always going to work with this group of students their whole life,” Piasecki said. “They’re going to leave Wayne Highlands Middle School, they’re going to go to college, they’re going to get a job down the road and they’re going to have to work with some new people.”


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