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Talent Elementary students learn to tinker

TALENT — Parts of toys, machines and electronics gear were scattered Friday across desks and the floor as students in Talent Elementary School’s Outdoor Discovery Program took part in a Rogue Hack Lab "tinker, take-apart and invent day."

Inventors and inventions make up this quarter’s study unit in the stand-alone school that offers 54 kindergarten through fifth-grade students project-based learning. The nonprofit Hack Lab was recruited by parents to lead the event.

“Part of the process is very much a tinkering phase,” said Mica Cardillo, of the lab. “They may or may not have an idea yet. I think a lot of these kids will be inspired.”

Parents were on hand to manage tools and hot glue guns in the noisy setting.

Tinkering with a vacuum cleaner hose led one team to create a zig-zag marble ramp made out of pieces of toys and discarded electronics attached to cardboard.

After lunch, instructional assistant Jocksana Corona wielded a glue gun to help fourth-grader Charlie Sherman and his teammates with the ramp. But first efforts hit a snag when the marble stopped.

“It wouldn’t go because of the ridges,” said Sherman. Then, as each piece was attached, team members made sure they had enough angle to keep the marble rolling.

When studies conclude at spring break, each student will have created an invention to take home, said Erin Mahanay, one of two program teachers. Besides project-based learning, the students have more traditional sessions to cover core subjects, she said.

“The hands-on learning really excites kids in a way that sitting in your seat with paper and pencil doesn’t,” said Mahanay. “Some kids who are not very excited with the core subjects are very engaged with this.”

Cardillo, a software developer, gave an overview of the invention phases in a first session. Then students in nine teams collaborated to build towers out of marshmallows, pasta and tape. The tallest tower reached about 18 inches high.

Some students might reach the second invention phase, an initial prototype, Cardillo said. But many would just remain in the first phase, hacking and tinkering.

“They are learning the vocabulary. We are introducing the concepts,” said Cardillo. The third stage, iteration, introduced all students to a word they didn’t know.

“I’m just taking it apart and hoping I get an idea,” said fifth-grader Orion Platt, as he disassembled a weed-eater. Orion organized parts neatly and explained that he’d learned mechanical skills from his dad, a former mechanic.

By afternoon, Orion decided he would use the weed-eater’s engine as part of a three-wheeled vehicle. Locating wheels was his next challenge.

Sheila Horton, grandmother of a student, took apart a toy with a screwdriver to help first-grader Sam Jealous, who was looking for inspiration. In the afternoon, Jealous showed a prototype of a floating air cleaner that had several circuit boards attached.

Rogue Hack was also learning from the event as it works to develop an outreach program to take to schools. The group has collaborated with ScienceWorks on Tinker Fest. The nonprofit operates the lab to encourage hackers and makers and to provide work space.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com

Achanti Hay, 8, builds a zoo during a Tinker Event at the Talent Elementary Outdoor Discovery Program on Friday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch