Runnels | Independent School, Baton Rouge


‘Tis the Season for Cajun STEM Challenge and Fais Do-Do at Runnels Elementary


Runnels third graders celebrated the season and our unique South Louisiana culture with a Cajun Style STEM Challenge Day in the Drama Room this week. They took on two engineering challenges inspired by a recent reading of The Cajun Cornbread Boy by Louisiana author Dianne de Las Casas. Another festive note was added to the occasion with a Fais Do-Do finale. 
For the first challenge, students helped the Cajun cornbread boy escape from his pursuers by safely transporting him down a "bayou" in a model-sized pirogue. Working in teams, they used the multi-step engineering design process to come up with prototypes of both. For help building the "bayou," they turned to Runnels dad Brandt Ray of Ferguson Enterprises. After providing him with measurements for the height, width, and length of the “bayou” as well as a drawing and cardboard model, Mr. Ray constructed it from PVC pipe.
Each team designed and built its own model pirogue for the challenge -- entirely from recycled materials. "We tested our designs in a small tub of water," said Ms. Ortlieb. "Some worked well the first time but many needed improvements and adjustments still. This process of improving their designs was a great problem-solving opportunity and resulted in some unique solutions."
On Cajun STEM Challenge Day, all of the pirogues made it safely down the 10-foot long "bayou."
In the second challenge, students helped the Cajun cornbread boy travel through marshy southern Louisiana woods to the safety of his cozy Acadian cabin by solving coding problems using Ozobots. (Before the event, the students had built model cabins from recycled materials to use in the scenario. Each cabin was staged with furniture, lighting, and in many models, a portrait of Cajun cook Justin Wilson, about whom the children had learned by watching a film.)
Ozobots are tiny robots with light sensors that allow students to direct their actions. The robots follow patterns on surfaces that are drawn with special red, blue, green and black markers on white surfaces.
"The students create the paths and decide which commands to give their Ozobots," said Mrs. Ortlieb. Different color sequences tell the Ozobots what to do. Throughout the semester, the children have been working with Ozobots to learn about coding. In this challenge, the Ozobots actually act as the Cajun cornbread boys and the students need to code their way to safety.”
Working in teams, the students used their coding skills to direct the Ozobots to go left, right, fast, slow, pause, make a U-turn, backwalk, zigzag and execute other maneuvers to get through an obstacle course of holiday themed objects and make it back to the cabin.
Last week, the students learned how to make hush puppies and enjoyed eating them.  
To cap off their STEM Challenge Day, the class had fun dancing the Cajun two-step, eating cookies and drinking Yahoo!