Luverne students experience virtual field trip

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Seventh and eighth-grade students at Luverne School recently embarked on an exciting virtual field trip, venturing into the world of engineering courtesy of Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. The interactive experience allowed students to delve into the life of an engineer and put their minds to work creating a mock spacecraft.

Eighth-grader Avery Tate expressed enthusiasm for the unique experience, highlighting the enjoyment derived from competing with classmates. 

“I enjoyed the design process and learned that I didn’t need to use all of my resources because I didn’t want my spacecraft to be too heavy and not work,” Tate said. “I think being an engineer would be a fun job, and even before this project, I wanted to study aerospace engineering in college.”

Led by Allyson Kicklighter, TES Engineering K-12 Outreach Admin at Auburn University, via a live feed, the virtual field trip took students through a series of activities designed to simulate the challenges and problem-solving involved in engineering. Through interactive engagement, Kicklighter facilitated discussions, emphasizing the vast scope of possibilities within the field of engineering.

“Virtual field trips are a great way for students to connect to others they may otherwise never meet,” Kicklighter said. “This also allows them to see that others from outside their direct community care about their success and education. Although engineering is our College’s main focus, it is just as important to simply expose students to hands on activities to encourage critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity within the STEM field. These trips are also a fun and easy way to encourage students to imagine what their futures could look like and give them a chance to see their real-world designs and imaginations to come to life!”

One standout task involved students creating a spacecraft that allowed  their astronaut (a rubber ball) to land quietly, securely and safely when dropped from varying heights. The students, equipped with specific materials that included cottons balls, a paper cup, coffee stirrers, string, plastic shopping bagS, index cards, masking tape and a bouncy ball (astronaut), engaged in the complete engineering design process – planning, designing, building and testing – to achieve the mission. The ‘Safe Landing’ activity provided students with a glimpse into the diverse array of engineering disciplines involved in such projects, including aerospace, electrical, mechanical and software engineering.

Julie Albritton, Junior High math teacher at Luverne, seized the opportunity for her students after stumbling upon a social media post from a fellow educator. Albritton contacted Auburn University who swiftly replied and scheduled the virtual field trip.

For these young minds at Luverne School, the virtual field trip was not just a journey through cyberspace but a thrilling expedition into the limitless possibilities of their potential. Albritton praised the chance to shift from traditional textbook learning to a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). She emphasized the importance of fostering “outside skills” and enabling students to excel in problem-solving and teamwork regardless of their college plans.

“I teach math, but this gave us an opportunity to take a break from textbook learning and really focus on STEM,” Albritton said. “We were able to give our ‘outside skills’ a chance to develop and grow thanks to Allyson and this awesome opportunity Auburn University provided. Not everyone is going to college, and those students need to be able to exercise and excel with those skills in front of their peers too. I loved the way the kids worked together and brought their ideas to life in less than an hour. Students could see what worked and what didn’t work and make improvements to see immediate improved outcomes.”