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SMS students test STEM skills with pumpkin launchers

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A group of seventh graders watch their pumpkin fly in the Shelbyville Middle School gymnasium. Each grade level competed to see which group could send their pumpkin the farthest.
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Shelbyville Middle School sixth grade studentslaunch pumpkins at the same time during Thursday’s pumpkin launching activity. All middle school studentsspent the day participating in the STEM event.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Pumpkins flew through the air, some landing farther than others, in the Shelbyville Middle School gymnasium at the end of the school day on Thursday.

And no, it wasn’t a Halloween party gone bad.

The plastic pumpkins were launched by students as part of the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiative.

Middle school students spent the entire day researching, designing, modifying and building launchers before, ultimately, launching the pumpkins in a competition.

“(There are) 960 kids that are coming together and working on a single project, but there’s different levels, tiered learning going on at each level, different levels of collaboration, communication, all those things where kids have to work together to solve a problem,” Principal Ryan Mikus said before seventh-graders took their turn seeing how far they could send pumpkins flying.

The school is looking at different ways of creating interactive learning opportunities. The school has tried different activities such as a weather balloon that was launched from the high school football field in 2016 to see how different items like beans and marshmallows were affected once it re-entered earth.

This year, the STEM leadership committee decided to create a day where all students participated in what turned into an entire day of building pumpkin launchers.

The school teamed up with the EMERGE program, Knauf Insulation and Freudenberg-Nok GP in giving students access to engineers who could help perfect their design.

Mikus said teachers were instructed to allow students to learn by trial and error.

The day was an opportunity for students to practice the four ‘C’s’ – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

The school had a visitor from the Indiana Department of Education who also stopped by to observe.

Mikus was pleased after the sixth grade had its turn testing the launchers. Each grade level took turns in the gymnasium at the end of the day.

“Walking around, I saw kids engaged, kids learning, kids having fun, and that’s your goal when you do something like this,” he said.

The administration will get feedback from teachers and students to see how they can make it better and will consider doing it – or a different activity – next year.