Students’ planes fly toward summer break

Fifth-graders Justine Meade, left, and Hala Carroll try out their planes in the school hallway

There was a time when students making paper airplanes in class might have been seen as a discipline problem, but not in Nicole Andreas’ fifth-grade classroom. Instead, paper airplanes were the last assignment of the year. They were to make three paper airplanes: one designed for maximum distance, one for hang time and one able to accurately hit a target.

Fifth-grader Kaston Atwood checks in with teacher Nicole Andreas

The students busied themselves on individual computers following  sometimes-complicated website instructions for fold-and-fly paper creations. “Just because it is a difficult fold doesn’t mean it will fly better,” Andreas told the young engineers. “It is your job to figure out which one you think will do the best job and then make it accurately for our contest.”

Airplanes of different shapes and colors soon started taking flight around the room, as the students experimented with their creations. Soon the activity spilled out into the hallway.

“This one was pretty easy to make,” said Hala Carroll. “At first I messed it up a little, but I think it will fly good. I am really determined.”

Fifth-grader Raileigh Fowler checks a website for ideas on making a good paper plane

“She really likes to win,” added her friend Justine Meade.

With the contest looming, planes were labeled with their names and carefully placed into the plastic tub “hanger” to wait for what would be their last class, dedicated to STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities.

STEM at Kent City Elementary

Andreas began her career at Kent City as a classroom teacher in 2004 and after a short layoff, was rehired to “run the computer lab.” Today she teaches STEM classes for all students at Kent City Elementary, which is home to kindergarten through fifth-grade. The classes with the youngest students are basically computer classes, she said, but also include some lessons introducing coding and building.

Fifth-grader Aaron Schicke is pretty sure he has found a good plan for his distance flight

Third through fifth grade students are introduced to a wide variety of STEM activities, including some 3D printing projects. “We were so fortunate to receive a 3D printer from Kent ISD and were able to purchase a second one,” she said.

Other projects popular in Andreas’ classes are building and programming robots and creating their own mini-golf holes. During the last days of the school year, some fifth-graders were still talking about their mini-golf creations.

“We had to figure out how to drive a spiro-bot through a 3-foot-by-3-foot maze-like thing,” said one. “Ours had a tunnel, a wheel-around ramp and a pier with a giant lighthouse.”

“The mini-golf was my favorite,” said another fifth-grader. “It was hard to get it to work right.”

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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