Dry ice, hovercrafts and catapults: STEM activities taught by real engineers at Taneytown Elementary

Taneytown Elementary School students learned from real-life engineers during their STEM night Tuesday.

This is the second year that Knorr Brake Company has partnered with the school for the STEM night — focused on science, technology, engineering and math — and last year they got great feedback, said Hannah Watt, Title 1 teacher.


The Knorr Brake volunteers come up with the ideas for the stations and bring the materials.

Randy Wingate helped organize Knorr’s end of the event, a task he said he was given because his wife teaches at the elementary school level.


“You have to have the right balance between fun and science,” he said. “If they’re not having fun, they’re not learning.”

For parents who want to find more educational activities and experiments to do with their children, there are hundreds that can be found online, he said.

This is the first of several Carroll County Public Schools STEM nights the company’s engineers will take part in.

The theme of the night was “Into the Ice Age” — which meant some chilly decorations and activities with dry ice, which is 140 degrees colder than the ice made from water.

In the school’s gym, there were four stations where students learned about the science and spectacle of dry ice, a solid form of carbon dioxide.

When dry ice gives off the misty-looking vapor that has made it so popular in special effects, it is sublimating, meaning it’s going from solid ice to a gas without melting into a liquid first.

At one station, students filled a balloon with the gas and were able to feel how much heavier it was than a balloon filled with air.

At another, the dense gas made another effect, nicknamed the crystal ball. Volunteers at the station dropped a piece of dry ice into a jar of water and it began to sublimate, or turn to carbon dioxide. Volunteers quickly swiped bubble fluid over the mouth of the jar, and a bubble began to form, filled with the swirling misty gas.

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Joshua Bauer was animated as he moved around the stations with his mother.

“We put the paper towel over it and it went peww,” he said, shaping his hands to represent the bubble. He went to the STEM night last year, and has been looking forward to the hovercraft activity. STEM interests him because he wants to be a veterinarian.

Before the activities, families could come for dinner at the school, where the cafeteria was decorated with balloons, icy blue confetti and tiny mammoth centerpieces on each table.

The star of the show was a large mammoth, handcrafted by Wendy Neville, Title I Parent Liaison. The mammoth had been in the school cafeteria for two weeks to get kids excited about the event.


One of the biggest goals was to draw parents and make them feel comfortable coming into the school so they can support and take part in what their children are learning, Neville said. Events at Title 1 schools aim to draw 30% of the school population. She said strong support from administration made the event possible.

Said Watt: “She really goes all out in the decorations. … Students have seen it every day and that’s really helped with the hype.”

Brie Bower, assistant principal, said the turnout at the event, “gets better and better every year.” She said a moment that struck her during the night was when she saw two members of the custodial staff stop what they were doing to watch the students having fun at the catapult station with huge smiles on their faces.

Taneytown Elementary School gifted each of its students a copy of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to promote a love of reading — and turned the front of the school into a candy land of their own.

At that station, students constructed catapults out of Popsicle sticks and rubber bands. A spoon made the perfect launcher for a ping pong ball, which students shot across the room into buckets.

Third-grader Jaylin Yingling said constructing the catapult was not too difficult. She had brought her mom along with her to the event.

“I’m looking forward to learning something new,” she said.

In the cafeteria, the Knorr volunteers helped them make “hovercrafts” by attaching balloons to a CD through a water bottle cap. The air exiting the balloon pushed against the tabletop and allowed the CD to glide.

This was the favorite event for Sadie and Shea Conlon, who came with their mom, Nicki, to their first STEM Night.

“She’s been excited for this all week,” Nicki Conlon said of Sadie.

The students were able to take home their hovercraft and their catapults.

“We think that’s so important so that when they go home,” Watt said, “that lesson can continue.”

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