Santa Rosa elementary students get a taste of engineering

Keysight Technologies engineers work with John Riebli Elementary School fifth graders to teach them science through hands-on labs. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)


The coil of suspended, partially insulated copper wire began to spin, and Alyssa Geary, 10, exclaimed: “Oh, it’s working!”

The fifth-grader had managed, under the tutelage of engineers from Sonoma County’s largest high-tech company, Keysight Technologies, to make a rudimentary working motor. What’s more, she understood it.

“The battery, it will react with the electrified magnet and keep on spinning, so it turns the motor that way,” Alyssa said.

She was one of 17 students in the John B. Riebli Elementary School classroom who are part of a six-session course to further expose them to the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — that are increasingly essential parts of the curriculum.

“This is the hands-on component, and they go more in-depth than in the regular classroom,” teacher Kristie Weber said.

Anthony Campos, 12, sanded some insulation off his copper coil, preparing it to conduct electricity.

“I like doing experiments to see what happens and how to do it. Usually in regular classes, they’re not this cool. You don’t build things; you just write about them,” Anthony said.

“I hope that I and everyone else can get these kids interested in science and engineering,” said an engineer sitting beside him, Rosana Cheruvelil. “When I was this age, we didn’t get to do anything like this, and all the experiments we had were kind of boring.”

Last week’s project was a catapult, used to explore distance and force.

“I brought it home and shot it in the hallway,” said Jaren Zurakowski, 10. He fired “tiny balls, Nerf balls, spiky balls,” he said.

The course, taught by Keysight engineers who volunteer for the assignment, also speaks, even at the students’ early age, to college and career readiness goals prioritized in the Common Core curriculum.

“This makes a connection for them,” Weber said, “to moving on in life after school and what you might do.”

Sofi Pardo, 10, who also managed to get her motor working, had an interesting take on that.

“If my future family needs help building stuff, I can help them with my engineering and science,” she said.

The current course is the second of three six-week sessions that all the school’s fifth-graders get a shot at participating in.

It delivers rewards to the volunteers, too, said Jarrett Gardner, an electrical engineer who was participating at the Mark West Union School District campus on Thursday.

“I have a kid now, and just being a parent, I think it’s good for the kids to do this,” he said as he oversaw a table of five students.

“It also helps me, as a dad, for when my kid gets older,” he said. “I’ll know what kind of experiments to do with her.”

Staff Writer Jeremy Hay blogs about education at You can reach him at 521-5212 or On Twitter @jeremyhay.