Approximately 200 middle and high school students recently trained at the Florida State University Panama City’s Holley Center with teachers and Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) scientists and engineers (S&Es) to program robots, study environmental aspects of coastal waters and train with some of the Navy’s state-of-the-art electronic sensors.
“We introduced children to careers they never dreamed of, and their having partnered with naval scientists, engineers and teachers showed them that college is not a dream but a reality if they choose to make it so,” said Ginger Littleton, Bay District School Board Chair.
Funded by a $240,000 National Defense Educational Program grant, the second annual Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Summer Institute was held at Florida State University from June 15 to June 26. The program’s mission is to stimulate students’ interests in STEM-related careers and, according to this year’s participants, was a resounding success.
“It made me realize how fun science and engineering can be, that it isn’t all just desk work and boring,” said Ian Gamble, a Mosley High School sophomore. “In my opinion the hands-on projects we were given are probably one of the better ways to teach kids, especially students who may need a little more of a boost.”
College of William and Mary 2009 STEM Summer Institute Assistant Director Jason Kramer said additional goals were to establish regional experts who would continue to implement the program’s principles of inquiry-based learning throughout the school year.
“Many of these teachers, scientists and engineers will help this project continue to evolve,” Kramer said. “They have set up a steering committee from NSWC PCD and local schools and will continue to meet with teachers and students throughout the year.”
NSWC PCD scientist and Florida STEM Coordinator Ed Linsenmeyer said the STEM Educational Alliance hopes to measurably increase the number of students pursuing college degrees in science and engineering.
“The expectation is that the teachers will become practitioners of Inquiry-Based Learning and move students toward effective application of concepts in STEM,” Linsenmeyer said.
Linsenmeyer added that during the school year the scientists and engineers will assist teachers and students in the classrooms for several days.
“They’ll do this by using many of the same tools employed during the summer institute like the LEGO MINDSTORM® robot kits,” Linsenmeyer said.
Gamble, who ultimately wants to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and has attended the STEM Summer Institute two years consecutively, complimented the program’s progressive improvement.
“This year we weren’t just limited to our own groups’ resources. We could go around and ask anyone from the Navy base, we could consult kids from other groups too and it was constructive interaction too,” Gamble said.
Littleton said students went from being passive listeners on day one to active leaders by day two.
“The students began arriving early getting started with or without their teachers and S&Es…meeting their mission requirements, getting adult input…and as the program progressed, the adults quickly became facilitators as the students took charge of their own learning,” Littleton said.
NSWC PCD engineer Jeff Feldstein praised student progress, especially for their growing appreciation regarding teamwork.
“In a matter of minutes, I witnessed one team transition from frustration and blame to working effectively together toward accomplishing a common goal,” Feldstein said. “These themes of communication and teamwork were reinforced throughout the entire STEM curriculum and can be applied by the students to any field of study they ultimately choose.”