In small pods buzzing with focused energy, the fourth graders at Bentworth Elementary School pondered, then conquered an engineering challenge: What’s the best way to design a fan using a few household items, that was strong enough to move an index card.

They were guided by 30 PennWest University elementary education majors studying at the California campus.

It was a breeze for some, a challenge for others, and a fun learning experience for everyone involved.

For PennWest students, who spent four sessions at Bentworth during the spring semester, it was a chance to put textbook knowledge into a real-world setting one last time before beginning their student-teaching assignments.

“Our students had the opportunity to learn how to teach the engineering design process,” said Dr. Peter Cormas, an education professor at PennWest. “They had to learn how to build a fan themselves, then work on a lesson plan to teach it to others, then reflect on what worked and what did not in teaching this lesson.”

Senior Samantha Stiles, from Montgomery County, Pa., embraced the opportunity and also gained some professional insight.

“It was interesting to experience the thought processes of the fourth graders,” she said. “I’m proud of the way they persevered and worked hard to solve the problems.”

Stiles benefited, too. “I think I want to work with younger students,” she said.

“These experiences help our students know for sure if they want to do this for the rest of their lives,” Cormas added, “which is why we put them in classroom settings beginning in their freshman year to start to gain experience.”

Bentworth leaders also benefited from the PennWest partnership.

“Our students get re-energized and excited about learning when the PennWest students are here; we have their undivided attention,” said Scott Martin, superintendent of the Bentworth School District, as he observed the morning’s activities.

“A day like this brings excitement into the classroom, for our students and our teachers. We need to be excited about education. When teachers are excited about education, students get excited about education.”

Karen Martin, who teaches social studies, had plans to teach about “fans” as they relate to the Wright Brothers and propellors.

“This was time well spent and on task,” she said. “STEM concepts can be tied into any subject.”

Photo: Morgan McMurdy, senior, elementary education, of Washington, Pa., with Parker and Ethan in Karen Martin’s fourth grade classroom, Bentworth Elementary