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Eleven sixth- and seventh-grade students at Owen Middle School are hard at work building a official-sized engineered “car” from a kit for the upcoming spring N.C. Gravity Games in Lenoir.

In the upcoming weeks, the team will meet weekly to build the car a student driver will race April 23 against other schools. This is the third year Owen Middle has sent a student team to the competition.

At the weekly after-school team meetings, students have been collaborating on the car, elevated and secured to a stand. They are using string to learn how a cable operates and using math to position the axle. They are also brainstorming ideas for the car’s look and what will be painted on the outside of their car. Team members will also wear an OMS team T-shirt with a logo designed by the team members.

Seventh-grader Natasha Luchinina knew very little about gravity before becoming part of the OMS team last year. This year, she is helping younger students understand what she learned. “I really like being part of the team working towards a goal,” she said.

The purpose of the N.C. Gravity Games is to promote STEM studies (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with real-life applications through construction and competition of a downhill Soapbox Derby-type racing event, according to the competition’s website. The games are the signature event of a multi-day event highlighting the impacts of science. More than 30 teams of middle and high school students will be represented.

This year’s OMS team is using a different process from the past two years. With the high cost of a car kit and limited school and grant funding available, reverse engineering is being used to take apart a car used in a previous competition, Cindy Sturdivant, a staff team sponsor, said. In the process, students learn, with the help of staff members, why the car was put together a certain way. The students are now rebuilding the car at club meetings, one step at a time, she said.

The gravity games have been good for students and something the school hopes to continue, said Sturdivant, a media specialist at Owen Middle School.

“Our students are learning valuable STEM concepts in a unique hands-on way that is harder to do in larger classroom settings; they are collaborating across grades and learning about teamwork,” Sturdivant said. The 11 team members include some who were on the team last year, a few who have built a Pinewood Derby car before and a few who know very little about building a gravity car or the engineering process involved. The students are learning together and helping to teach other in the process, she said.

Amber Wilson, a seventh-grader, participated on last year’s team. She likes the hands-on learning and getting to build something. But it is the teamwork and competition that interest her most. “This year, I understand that it’s more about the learning process than the actual competition,” she said. “We worked really hard last year, even though we didn’t win the state race.”

Some of the benefits of building the cars, Sturdivant said, are learning how to do things a specific way to make it operate properly, paying attention to detail and following instruction. The students also learn to work as a group and how to move through small steps to reach a larger goal. “All of these are valuable lessons our students can apply to any classroom setting.” she said.

Students worked in small groups to create a small Pinewood Derby-style car to race in a school competition earlier this winter. From that competition, the team of 11 was selected to send to the state competition.

Selected were Kody Barrett, April Cretsinger, Charlie Hurt, Dennis Luchinin, Natasha Luchinina, Samara McKnight, Neehar Patel, Peyton Sulkowski, Stella Phelps, Tessa VanDussen and Amber Wilson.

Business sponsors will have their logos on the car raced at the event and later at the school; for more, contact Sturdivant at cindy.sturdivant@bcsemail.org or 686-7739.

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