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After school program introduces engineering concepts

Worthington Middle School students apply their new knowledge on levers, wheels and axles and incline planes to work together to create a contraption to get a marble form point A to point B during this week's EDGE program. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A group of Worthington Middle School students got a new perspective on common items during this week’s after school enrichment program.

Students had to determine what kind of simple machines — wheel and axle, lever or incline plane — made items like scissors, door knobs, wheelbarrows, fishing poles and slides function during Enrichment Directed Toward Gaining and Extending Knowledge (EDGE), a collaboration between District 518 and Nobles County 4-H.

By communicating with group members and problem solving, middle schoolers also attempted to get a marble from point A to point B using popsicle sticks, foam, spoons, paper plates, paper/plastic cups, building blocks, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, rubber bands, bottle caps and spools.

“We are trying to show the youths that they do not always need to purchase new supplies, but can recycle old ones,” said Katie Klosterbuer, Minnesota Extension Nobles County 4-H Program Coordinator, about the items, which were donated by 4-H families and Nobles County Government Center employees.

The week’s activity is just another step toward students building a “Rube Goldberg” machine and putting it to the test at the end of the year.

The machine will require students to apply what they’ve learned throughout the year about the six simple machines — levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, screws, wedges and incline planes — to use common items to build simple tasks linked together to create a complex contraption. The idea is that a domino effect will lead to accomplishing a simple task.  

Klosterbuer said she hopes to have a showcase of student’s finished projects in May.

Approximately 180 middle schoolers are in the EDGE program. The referral-based program funded by the state offers academic assistance and enrichment activities with the intent to provide students in need of extra assistance to stay on track. The program is also active at Prairie Elementary.

Students’ two-hour EDGE time is divided into two sections — receiving assistance with homework and the 4-H funded enrichment enrichment program.

“We try to keep (the students) as engaged as possible, because we like it when they don’t realize they’re learning,” Klosterbuer said.

During the three years of the school and county’s 4-H collaboration, the program has been taught in separate classrooms and only been offered to select students in the program. This dual enrollment structure for all EDGE students seems to work best for all parties involved, Klosterbuer said.

“Then we meet all of the needs of the kids,” added District 518 Extended Learning Manager Andrea Derynck. “This way, we’re reaching the most number of students possible.”

The structure is also gaining the county’s 4-H program some exposure.

Klosterbuer said she was initially brainstorming ideas to reach more kids in the county when she learned about the EDGE program.

“A lot of kids had no idea what 4-H was — and they’re still kind of leery about what it means — but they know that when they come here during EDGE they have fun,” she said. “It’s a good way to promote both of our programs.”