JANESVILLE, Wis. — A windmill made of a milk carton, string, Popsicle sticks and other odds and ends stood in front of the fan. The three students who built the machine waited in anticipation.
Teacher Carrie Mergen switched on the fan.
The windmill's blades moved not a bit.
"What's wrong?" Mergen asked.
That was the scene one recent morning at Lincoln Elementary School. The summer school class is designed to introduce engineering to students as young as these going-into-second-graders.
"Turn the blades a little bit," suggested student Zach Visgar.
With the blades turned at an angle to the wind, the blades began to spin on their own.
"Awesome!" Zach said.
The next test: Could the windmill do work?
The windmill powered a wooden-dowel axle attached to a string with a paper cup attached. As the axle spun, the string wound around the axle, raising the cup.
How much weight could the windmill raise? Kids put 1-inch metal washers in the cup. The record, set by the going-into-third-graders in the previous class, was 51 washers.
Zach's team started with five. Then 10.
"If it's going to be 10, how many washers do we add to the cup?" Mergen asked.
"Five!" said team member Mariah Schmidt.
The kids did the math without thinking about doing math.
"Oh, it's working! Let's do 20 now," enthused the third team member, Rhianna Waite.
By the time they got to 40, Rhianna was jumping up and down with excitement: "It did it!"
At 45, the string broke.