PANAMA CITY, Fla. (NNS) -- Navy engineers began teaming with local teachers June 10 at the annual Florida State University Panama City's STEM Summer Institute to teach kids everything from rocket science to engineering and environmental sciences.
The event is coordinated between the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) and the Florida State University Panama City STEM Institute, according to Ed Linsenmeyer, NSWC PCD STEM coordinator.
"Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are at the core of what we're attempting to inspire students to take an interest in and we're doing this by giving them specialized activities so they can learn by hands-on experience," Linsenmeyer said. "It's very important to pique the students' interest in STEM disciplines as early as possible because current research is showing that many American students are losing interest and turning off from these particular studies as early as the fourth and fifth grades."
Although sponsorship for the event varies, Linsenmeyer said the lion's share comes from the Office of the Secretary of the Defense (OSD).
"Much of the funding is channeled through OSD's National Defense Education Program (NDEP)," Linsenmeyer said. "This is actually the sixth year OSD's NDEP has helped make it possible for our scientists and engineers to partner with local teachers and students."
Director of the STEM Institute Ginger Litttleton said the summer-science camp's reputation for success continues to grow with each passing year.
"This program continues to attract more teacher-student participation from surrounding counties each year," Littleton said. "This year we have added Hamilton, Washington, Clay, Franklin and Walton county schools to our STEM Summer Institute."
Linsenmeyer and Littleton said the camp was structured so that Navy scientists and engineers partnered with master teachers during the camp's first week to design the curriculum's activities and projects presented to students.
"We also took a day or two of that first week to teach the activities to the newer teachers, which is good practice for every facilitator interacting with students," Littleton said. "We use several different types of hands-on learning modules designed to pique students' interest in the STEM disciplines. Students work with rocketry, robotics, environment, electrical engineering and computer programming with the goal of connecting them to STEM careers in the future."
Retired NSWC PCD Engineer John Hansel introduces students to rocket science as they rotate through his class project.
"I introduce the kids to rockets. And by showing them how to build and fly model rockets, we end up talking about Newton's Laws of Motion, Boyle's Gas Law of Gas Expansion, center of gravity and even a little geometry so we can build and successfully fly our rockets," Hansel said.
Vernon Middle School rising eighth grader Trinity Potter said learning to build model rockets was fun.
"Basically, we put colored water into a plastic bottle, then we use a bicycle pump to pressurize air into the bottle and just let Newton's Law of action-reaction happen. When the water comes out, it goes in one direction and the rocket bottle goes in the other direction - up," Potter said.
Standing ankle deep in St. Andrew Bay and surrounded by a group of students armed with nets, Waller Elementary STEM Teacher Carla Thedford helped her students gather some of the smaller sea-life forms near shore for identifying and classifying the creatures.
"Once we classify the creatures, we study how they survive on various food sources located in the bay," Thedford said.
One of the science camp's newer teachers, Thedford said her school's principal was impressed by the apparent success of STEM's hands-on learning approach so she decided to incorporate a STEM class as a required part of Waller Elementary's curriculum.
"I teach STEM all year," Thedford said. "All of our elementary students rotate through my classroom once a week to learn about the principals of STEM. If I had not been invited to participate in FSU PC's STEM Summer Institute last year, I wouldn't have known exactly how to begin with my students at Waller Elementary."
Thedford said her school staff was grateful for having the opportunity to participate in the STEM Summer Institute and for the support the school received from the Navy base, too.
"If I ever have any questions about engineering all I have to do is call Mr. Linsenmeyer and he connects me with the appropriate subject matter expert," Thedford said. "This is so beneficial because our school hasn't just adopted the learning modules here, but we've also begun using Engineering is Elementary (EIE) to complement our STEM curriculum. Like the STEM learning modules, EIE - a program developed by the Museum of Science, in Boston - uses learning kits structured to pique students' interest and build their confidence about learning engineering principles."
Thedford said currently she was using EIE's Catching the Wind: Designing Windmills unit.
"These learning units usually come as kits with a reader scenario that challenges students to find solutions to energy-related problems. For example, our most recent windmill project taught students to build windmills, with the module's scenario supposedly being located in Denmark. These EIE learning units are designed extremely well because they incorporate social studies, science and math," Thedford said.
Littleton said all attending students from this year's FSU PC STEM Summer Institute were required to give a PowerPoint presentation to highlight their various team projects and to relate to an audience of parents, relatives, teachers, Navy scientists and engineers the significance of what they learned from this year's participation.
"The objective of this STEM Summer Institute is to inspire students to learn to appreciate how science and math can help open up future career opportunities, performing job tasks they actually deem rewarding and interesting. By partnering with the Navy scientists and engineers, we can empower them with real-world experience of learning to problem solve side by side with real-world professionals," Littleton said. "By incorporating other business skills such as having to learn to use PowerPoint to give presentations, we are also helping to complement their STEM disciplines with business skills to shape our country's next generation of leaders and problem solvers."
The summer science camp is scheduled to conclude July 12.
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For more news from Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, visit www.navy.mil/local/NSWC/.