Oaklawn School fifth-grader Karlen Knospe found it fascinating to walk through UW-Stout’s Research Day in the Memorial Student Center. “It was awesome,” Knospe said. “I talked with them and got to see their ideas.”
Knospe was one of 22 fifth-grade students from Menomonie who attended Research Day in May and shared their team research projects. Knospe and Ava Webber presented their research on creating a kindness generator. The idea was that a student would be picked each day to use a computer to randomly generate a kind comment and the name of a classmate. During the school day, the student who generated the comment had to share it with the other student. “I came up with the idea,” Knospe said. “I wanted more kindness.” Students plan to have the kindness generator up in their classroom soon.
Teacher Matthew Wigdahl said this was the second year Oaklawn students shared their research at Research Day. He called it a tremendous benefit to the younger students. “They are explaining their ideas in public and having to answer questions,” Wigdahl said. “They are getting that whole experience of public speaking.” Fifth-graders also had the opportunity to see collegiate research projects.
“They are able to interact with the college students on a different level,” Wigdahl said. “They can talk about how to input code (into circuit boards) and able to get ideas to improve their research. “I want my classroom to feel like a space where anything is possible if we have the right tools and knowledge,” Wigdahl said. “It inspires them to think. I want them to grow up knowing they can build things and make things.” Devin Berg, UW-Stout program director for mechanical engineering and an associate professor, goes into Wigdahl’s class and introduces students to using circuit boards and doing research. Berg said part of his goal is to encourage students to consider science and technology careers. “I hope it at least shows them it’s not a scary thing and that they can do it,” he said. “It’s the type of challenge they can handle.”
Some of the Oaklawn students researched how to program a model robotic arm. They used a 3D printer to build the robotic arm. “I learned coding is hard,” Micah Gunderson said. Brooklynn Birt said she enjoyed seeing the college students’ research. “It’s just super that we get to meet people and learn how they control their studies,” Birt said.
Fifth-grader Ashley Miller worked on a project developing a pencil holder, using a wrist strap, for a fellow student who has difficulty holding a pencil. The best part about that project for students, Wigdahl said, is they can work with the student and see which ideas work to hold the pencil and which ones don’t.