Tomorrow’s inventors are developing today

Students at Churchville-Chili Middle School have put their creativity to work on a technology that has challenged engineers for over 50 years: magnetic levitation transportation systems or maglev, for short. Maglev vehicles use superconducting magnets to counter gravitational pull, resulting in cars or trains that float above the road or tracks. They use no fuel, need no drivers, are exceptionally safe and travel at speeds as high as 375 mph.

Teachers Josie Cancilla-Spadafora and Lockley Platt, with help from Instructional Coach Andrea Lynch, combined their students’ exploration of the properties of magnets with an introduction to the Engineering Design Process: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create and Improve. The resulting lesson was a brainstorming collaboration among imaginative young minds, focused on inventing a working maglev vehicle.

Resourceful student teams built their vehicles, experimenting with a variety of materials including Styrofoam, cardboard, Velcro, pennies and paperclips. They tried different types, shapes and sizes of magnets to figure out which worked best. The vehicles were constructed and then tested on a short track lined with magnets. Most failed, but were rebuilt, tested again and refined. Curiosity, teamwork and persistence were rewarded when vehicles finally floated.

Students loved the exercise. They said, “Frustrating, but really fun!” “We just kept trying different things until it worked.” “We each had ideas that made our car better.”

Learning didn’t end with achieving functionality. Teams took the design process even further, adding attractive visual elements to their vehicles and creating marketing programs and posters.

“By teaching grade-level standards in engaging ways and preparing kids to be resilient and open to new ideas, we give them the tools they need to make the impossible possible,” said Cancilla-Spadafora. “We want them to see that they each have unique talents that can solve problems and make the world better.”

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