Fifth Graders Compete in AWIM JetToy Challenge

It’s hard to miss the display case just inside the main entrance of the school. There, for all to see, is a t-shirt signed by the team and a medal from that special day.

By the time students at Unity Elementary School in Luthersville, Georgia, graduate from fourth grade, they’re already looking forward to fifth just so they can finally have a chance to compete in the SAE A World In Motion® (AWIM)® JetToy Challenge supported by Kia Georgia. They’ve seen the display case, they’ve heard the stories, and now they want to prove themselves.

When you’re in the fifth grade, the JetToy Challenge is like playing in the super bowl. Teams from five school districts in Alabama and Georgia, competing on the grandest of stages with one shot to win it all. The preparation can start months in advance with teams carefully watching instructional videos, learning about different components, and going step-by-step through the process of building a balloon-powered car.

For Unity Elementary Math and Science Teacher Kerry Ramey, the process and pace are both very important. “Students are excited and want to start building their cars right away. They can’t wait to get the next pieces. But we also don’t want them to get frustrated. We take our time over a period of weeks, talking through a lot of “what if” scenarios such as why axles need to be parallel and straight with the chassis and what could happen if they aren’t. How many balloon puffs they think they’ll need and why.”

Because the AWIM JetToy Challenge is aligned with the Georgia Department of Education’s Standards for Mathematical Practice, everything the students do in the classroom is already reflected in the curriculum. They learn about problem solving, reasoning, constructing arguments, using clear and precise language, and mathematical modeling—all in a fun, hands-on way.

Throughout the entire build process, students are learning how to adjust variables based on the performance of their vehicles—just like professional engineers. If and when they fail, they’re encouraged by classmates and teachers to find a solution. “It’s one thing to say it or read it, but it’s another to test the car and see it didn’t perform to the criteria they were given. The students can get a little disappointed, but then they start to figure out why it isn’t working and how to fix it. If they hit a bump, they problem-solve, fix it, and move past it,” Ramey added.

When you speak to teachers, the one consistent theme is how the event helps to build student confidence. “This year we did the best we’ve ever done. We were 1.3 meters from winning the gold. You can see it in the students—even those who didn’t win. They got to build a car and know they had just as good a chance as any” said Rusty Yates, fifth grade teacher at Huguley Elementary School in Lanett, Alabama. Yates should know—he was the very first pilot class for the Kia JetToy Challenge and is just as fired up for his students today as he was when the program started seven years ago.

“It’s really great for the kids and a great teaching moment. You can see the light bulbs going off in their heads when they get their cars going straight. They start to see they might be able to do this for a living—to actually design a car for Kia,” said Yates.

It also sounds like getting their cars to perform the way they want them to might not be their biggest challenge. It’s deciding who from their team gets to take the JetToy car home once the competition is over.

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