Gearing up for a fun ride in LaGrange Park
Nathan Wallin of La Grange, a sixth grader at Cossitt Avenue School, works on his amusement park ride during an after-school science enrichment program at Barnsdale Road School February 19, 2013. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
When: 9 a.m. to noon March 2
Where: Forest Road School gym, 901 N. Forest Road, LaGrange Park
Participants: Kindergarten through sixth-graders
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:04AM
LAGRANGE PARK — No need to wait for Great America to open in the spring for a thrill.
A group of La Grange Elementary District 102 fifth-graders have designed their own rides for a miniature amusement park in an afterschool program.
In just four sessions, students chose a design, started construction and tweaked it after powering up their ride through a computer hook-up. The young engineers then wrote a computer program to tell the ride how to move.
“I couldn’t believe it, that it would actually move and go around,” said Delaney Murphy, who attends Ogden Avenue School.
Delaney and Forest Road School students Ella Finnegan and Rachel Fabian designed The Swing, which sends tiny swinging seats around in a circle high above a black plastic base.
At a work session Feb. 19, the trio’s task was to program the ride to stop and start for 5 seconds to let passengers off and on. The girls also had to stabilize the ride’s base with additional plastic parts. The ride’s circular motion tended to make it move, causing the gears not to mesh well.
“I’ve learned a lot about gears and what you can build out of Lego parts,” Ella said.
Cossitt School students Jared Steuart and Ryan Middendorf called their engineering marvel the Lunch Loser, because they programmed their Ferris wheel to go backward and forward several times.
“I wanted to fortify the wheel so it wouldn’t fall apart, and it turned into an oval,” Jared explained.
The ride starts out innocently enough gliding forward for 15 seconds. Then it begins rotating backward and forward, each time for 4 seconds and then for 1 second.
“Awesome. That ride would definitely make me puke,” said science teacher and project consultant Kelly Vaiciulis.
Ryan said he wanted to take the afterschool class because the idea of building an amusement park ride intrigued him.
“I wanted to build a roller coaster, but that was not an option,” he said. “We had to have gears.”
The two students said the trial and error process of perfecting their design took patience and perseverance.
Before the enrichment program began, four teachers built and tested models of the rides at the district’s science center in the basement of Barnsdale Road School.
Science teacher Virginia Hohl said she appreciates the students’ frustration at times.
“You might think it’s simple, but to make all the parts work together with the computer program, it’s very hard,” Hohl said.