Navy Engineers Help Teachers Make Learning Science Fun
Posted on: June 28, 2012
Navy engineers are helping local teachers pique students’ interests in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to solve problems by using STEM skills. Florida State University Panama City (FSU PC) and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) partnered to host the 2012 STEM Summer Institute from June 11 to June 29. Director of FSU PC STEM Institute Ginger Littleton said the summer science camp is structured to interest students and teachers alike through a variety of hands-on projects assisted by scientists and engineers who work at NSWC PCD.
“For example, our Inventor’s Project will challenge students to develop a solar LED light that gathers energy during the day for use at night in countries like Haiti where many people are living without electric power,” Littleton said. NSWC PCD Electrical Engineer Bill Porter joined with Bay County’s District STEM committee members in early February to help incorporate a project that would teach fundamental engineering skills and simultaneously demonstrate how technology can benefit society at large.
“Engineers from our lab spent a week preparing teachers so once students arrived, we can teach students basic engineering skills like soldering resisters and capacitors to circuit boards,” Porter said, adding the circuit boards were just one of the components necessary to build the solar LEDs. “So, we’re teaching students engineering that helps solve problems for other people.”
Having begun Panama City’s STEM Summer Institute in 2008, Littleton said the program is experiencing the success of growth in terms of attracting more teachers and students. Littleton said the program was made possible by FSU PC partnering with NSWC PCD Liaison and STEM Camp Coordinator, Ed Linsenmeyer who helped obtain part of the funding from the National Defense Education Program (NDEP).
“The partnership between FSU PC and NSWC PCD is invaluable because both organizations are necessary to ensure this STEM summer camp continues to occur annually. It would be extremely difficult to do this without NDEP’s support,” Linsenmeyer said. “Because of NDEP’s support and FSU PC’s ability to secure grants, this science camp inspires more students each year, which is critical because these students will ultimately become part of our nation’s future leadership,” Linsenmeyer said.
Littleton said the program’s outreach is continuing to grow each year.
“Teachers are attending from the county schools surrounding Bay County, so the Navy’s engineers and Bay County teachers who have been involved from the beginning are networking with teachers in the rural areas now,” Littleton said. “Navy scientists and engineers are also continuing to meet with teachers and students periodically throughout the year because teachers leave the science camp and incorporate similar STEM activities into their schools’ curriculum.”
Porter verified he was already visiting schools throughout the year not only to give presentations, but to assist teachers with robotic competitions. He also said the STEM Summer Institute’s newest project appeared to be a hit with the teachers.
“I’ve already got teachers asking me for a materials list so they can incorporate the solar LED project into their school’s STEM clubs,” Porter said.
“Like our new solar LED project, we’re continuing to incorporate new content to better prepare students for competing in today’s global job market,” Littleton said. Littleton said she polled various organizations in Bay County asking which business software prospective employers would prefer job candidates have mastery of when applying for positions.
“Without exception, they all specified Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software,” Littleton said. “As a result, our students are required to learn Microsoft’s Excel to make their final presentations at the camp’s conclusion. So, the program is growing. It’s growing with regard to its content, and more teachers and students are participating.”
Littleton said most of the local middle and high schools that have already been participating for years have already instituted STEM-related activities into their curriculum.
“But now we’re also beginning to involve more elementary schools, so we’re getting students hooked into math and science at earlier stages in their education,” Littleton said.
Science Teacher Brandon Mullens at Parker Elementary School declared the STEM Summer Institute a positive experience for teachers and students. Mullens volunteered to help teach the Environmental Science portion of this year’s program. Mullens helped this year’s science camp students investigate the ecology of the bay’s local sea grass.
“I’ve been keeping current with this STEM camp’s methodology, which is more of a hands-on approach for kids. You can only teach at a student about a subject for so long and then they need to have their hands on it to more fully grasp its meaning,” Mullens said. “Although this is my first year participating in this camp, our elementary school has already instituted Sizzling Science Saturday, which has projects ranging from coastal ecology to roller coasters to rockets.”
According to Morgan Watkins, who attends Kaleidoscope School of Discovery Elementary, having examined Copepods from the bay via microscope was career inspiring.
“We got to do robotics. We put together these little lights powered by the sun and we got to find stuff in the ocean,” Watkins said. “I love to learn about the ocean and how these technicians get to work in it. I think it would be fun to become a marine biologist.”