Fifth-grader Erika Levine's model airplane soared through the classroom, veered left and crashed into a table.
"What do you need to adjust?" South Fayette Middle School teacher Frank Kruth asked.
"The rudder," Erika answered.
She returned to her teammates and slid the foam rudder to the right, applying her teacher's mantra -- "in the direction of the correction" -- to alter the tail assembly to make the balsa wood glider fly straight to the back wall, a distance of about 30 feet.
The engineering feat is an example of what 10- and 11-year-old students are accomplishing in the new elective, Technology in Motion, a course that enhances the budding technology education program in South Fayette Middle School.
Mr. Kruth, technology education teacher, created the hands-on class to introduce fifth-graders to high-level science and math concepts and let them apply the ideas by designing, assembling and optimizing the performance of miniature airplanes, cars and sailboats.
"I'm always talking to them about concepts as they're building and experimenting, so they see how it applies to their vehicles," Mr. Kruth said, aptly wearing a tie printed with paper airplanes.
"It's all about motion and forces."
Safety goggles in place, Sydney Dorley, 10, approached the launch site -- a rubber band and ruler taped to a table. She placed her glider in the band, pulled it back 60 centimeters and let go. The plane -- with wings positioned 15 centimeters from the clay nose -- flew straight to its distant target.
"It's just because of the wing position," Sydney explained.
"And we had the straight rudder," work partner Rachel Williams, 11, added.
The girls recorded their test results to be charted in a graph.
Later, the team increased thrust by pulling back the glider 80 centimeters and saw a slightly different outcome: The nose turned up, and the plane dropped to the ground before hitting its mark.
"Why did it do that? More thrust equals what?" Mr. Kruth asked.
"More drag," Rachel answered.
Mr. Kruth said he developed the class from a basic curriculum designed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The course promotes critical thinking and lays the foundation for regular academic material by getting students to apply a combination of science, technology, engineering and math concepts.
"It's empowering kids to be ready for 21st-century careers," Mr. Kruth said.
An estimated 140 students will take the class during the school year. Fifth-graders can elect to take it in addition to their required technology education course.
Technology education replaces yesterday's wood shop, Mr. Kruth said. While the students sometimes use traditional hand tools to craft a gift for mom, they also use laptops to program robotic arms, giving them a taste of modern-day manufacturing tasks.
About four years ago, renovations to South Fayette Middle School allowed the industrial arts program to be expanded and updated. Mr. Kruth designed the entire program for grades five to eight.
Formerly the owner of a construction company, Mr. Kruth became a teacher seven years ago after he found himself showing his employees how to apply, in practical terms, science and math concepts they had learned in school.
"If we would have learned these things when we were younger," he said, "I think we'd be better off."
Freelance writer Andrea Iglar can be reached at email@example.com .