What can you do with cantaloupes and a 95-foot fire ladder?

What can you do with cantaloupes and a 95-foot fire ladder?

Throw the melons off the ladder and see if they break into a million pieces, of course.

Reynoldsburg eSTEM Academy engineering students recently designed devices to protect cantaloupes from cracking open when thrown from a one-story building, but they were a little too successful, teacher Jim Coley said.

"We have 47 freshmen and sophomores in the engineering problem-solving class and this year, every one of them had a successful drop (from one story), so we needed a more rigorous test," he said.

He said school board member Ryan Brzezinski, who is a lieutenant with the Columbus Division of Fire, reached out to Assistant Chief Harold Williams at the West Licking Joint Fire District, asking for help.

Williams agreed to send his department's ladder truck to the school Sept. 1 to see if the cantaloupe cases could survive a stiffer challenge.

Two firefighters parked the truck in the northeastern corner of the Summit High School campus at 7:25 a.m. and threw the swathed and swaddled melons one-by-one from the top of the ladder.

Students hustled to pick up the cases to see if the cantaloupes inside survived the fall.

Coley said the 100-percent survival from one story was reduced to 60 percent from the ladder truck.

"We wanted to put real problems in front of the students and force them to apply what they have learned in their core classes," he said. "They have to imagine their solution and design it in their engineering notebooks, then plan and build their device, test it and record their final test."

He said egg drops are usually used as an engineering challenge.

"We started the melon drop last year because our kids have done egg drops over and over," he said. "This was more of a challenge."

He said most of the students attempted to solve the problem using one of two methods.

"The devices seemed to take two forms -- a padded box or crate for the melon with some type of parachute or umbrella was the most popular, with six teams using a variation of that," he said. "The other teams designed heavily padded containers with nothing to slow their descent."

The class is intended to build on core STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classes, Coley said.

"We follow the engineering design process and the challenges in the class give the students a chance to imagine, plan, design, improve and then share with the whole class, independent of the pressures of grades," he said. "The goal was to successfully meet the challenge."

He said students are expected to observe and document each and every step of the project, then present their experiences to the group.

"I am wholly committed to the idea that STEM needs to be as hands-on and applied as possible," he said. "Students need to see that the science and math they are learning mean something real and projects like this are one of the ways to do that."

He said "learning by doing" is nothing new.

"What we have been able to do here at eSTEM is tie it to advanced content and academic rigor and I think that has much to do with our success," he said.