Second-graders at Herbert Mills STEM Elementary School were civil engineers for a day last Friday at the I.C.E. Lab, designing "tennis ball towers" using only 20 drinking straws, 40 inches of masking tape, scissors, a tape measure and one tennis ball.

Second-graders at Herbert Mills STEM Elementary School were civil engineers for a day last Friday at the I.C.E. Lab, designing "tennis ball towers" using only 20 drinking straws, 40 inches of masking tape, scissors, a tape measure and one tennis ball.

Teacher Teresa Cotner said first- through fourth-graders at the school visit her I.C.E Lab classroom for one hour each week, where they "imagine, create and engineer."

The "engineers" on Aug. 28 were from Celeste Cripe's second-grade class.

"We talked a little about what it means to be an engineer last week when we read Rosie Revere Engineer," Cotner said. "Engineers are people who like to know how and why things work."

She told the children that engineers ask themselves three questions when they encounter a problem: What is the problem? Who has the problem? Why is the problem important to solve?

"Friday's design challenge, although not necessarily a real-world problem, was designed to allow students to work through the design cycle in one class period and develop stamina to tackle more extensive projects in the future," Cotner said.

The first step in the design cycle is "imagine," so student groups hit the web to research other towers built by engineers, such as the Eiffel Tower, the John Hancock Center in Chicago and a telecommunications tower.

After studying famous tower designs, the student groups had just three minutes to brainstorm a "plan," which is the second step in the design cycle.

"After the students had a chance to individually brainstorm a solution to the problem, each child had the opportunity to share their idea with their table team," Cotner said. "After all ideas had been shared, a team plan was developed."

The third, fourth and fifth steps in the design cycle, Cotner said, are "design (and create), improve (and test) and share (communicate the results)."

Cotner said the students made drawings of their designs and began using the supplies to create their towers.

"Usually, we try to make it through all the steps in the engineering design cycle during one class period, but it's the beginning of the year and we are just getting back in the swing of things, so Mrs. Cripe's class will need to finish designing, improving and sharing their towers next week," she said.

Cotner, who has taught in Reynoldsburg schools for 18 years, created the I.C.E. Lab last year at Herbert Mills.

"The I.C.E. Lab is a classroom space to gather, create, invent and learn," she said.

She said education often imitates the lifestyles and work environments of the current generation. In pioneer days, students learned to be apprentices and during the industrial age, school environments focused on completing solitary, often repetitive tasks in a group setting.

"This generation of students needs to be equipped to handle technology, collaborate, communicate and be creative in ways we have never seen before," Cotner said. "That is the reason why we are seeing the explosion of the maker movement across the nation, not only in schools, but also in communities."

According to the Technopedia website, the maker movement involves people who use do-it-yourself and do-it-with-others techniques and processes to develop unique items, often technology products.

She said many schools now have "Fab Labs" and even adults can find a "maker space" in downtown Columbus, called the Columbus Idea Foundry.

I.C.E. Lab learning is built on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) teaching and best practices, Cotner said. Students working in the lab follow Herbert Mills Elementary's five "Habits of Mind," which are to "explore, engage, expand, evaluate and explain."

"Students engage in interdisciplinary design challenges and utilize technology resources," Cotner said. "They will expand their thinking as they work through the design cycle to explore solutions to real-world problems. They then explain and evaluate the effectiveness of their solution."