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Merrick County students' skills put to test in Gingerbread Engineering Challenge
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Merrick County students' skills put to test in Gingerbread Engineering Challenge

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Gingerbread Engineering Challenge

Hannah Pfeifer adds the finishing touches to her gingerbread house during the 4-H Gingerbread Engineering Challenge in Central City on Friday afternoon. 

While many might be decking the halls of their houses and homes, one woman is getting into the Christmas spirit by turning her office into a gingerbread house. Buzz60’s Mercer Morrison has the story.

In a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) challenge fit for the Gingerbread Man, elementary students gathered after school at the Merrick County 4-H Building to create a gingerbread house.

The “Gingerbread Engineering Challenge” is an afterschool activity put on by Merrick County Extension 4-H, open to kids in grades third though sixth. This past Friday’s session was for Central City kids, whether in 4-H or not.

There were 16 participants.

Gingerbread Engineering Challenge

Central City's 4-H Gingerbread Engineering Challenge on Friday afternoon was for the kids to draft and build a gingerbread house that weighed less than 4.7 ounces. 

“We kind of use this as a marketing tool,” said Kara Wells, extension assistant for 4-H and Youth Development. “We want those youth who’ve never been in 4-H to have that first step into the 4-H building and into the 4-H workshop to understand how neat 4-H can be.”

Most important, Wells said, is the educational element. “We’re finding that we’re needing some more curriculum in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) area. That’s kind of how that concept came about.”

The STEM lesson is a fun challenge that doesn’t always seem like a lesson, Wells said. “They don’t necessarily understand they’re coming to a STEM workshop, but that is totally what they’re learning when they’re engineering a gingerbread house.”

The challenge was to build a 4.7-ounce gingerbread house with one window and one door. The design phase was first, utilizing graph paper and calculating the weights of materials used, including gumdrops and graham crackers.

Some participants ran into the problem of their materials weighing too much, Wells said. “They had to come up with ideas — we won’t use all the frosting or we won’t use all the graham crackers — then they took just a few minutes to try to design on graph paper what they were going to do with the candies, and they could weigh the candies. They knew after weighing their undecorated house, how many more they could add.”

Gingerbread Engineering Challenge

Sawyer Groetzinger, left, and Trig Brandes gather building supplies during the Gingerbread Engineering Challenge at Central City.

Some kids had a gumdrop weight dilemma, Wells said. “What can you do? Well, you can swap your gumdrops out for something lighter. There were a lot of great ideas.”

When pressed to choose her favorite gingerbread house at the Central City workshop, Wells couldn’t decide. “There were so many great, great ideas and thoughts that went into it. I can’t really pick out one, but it’s amazing the (kids’) ‘light bulbs’ coming on.”

Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.

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