Wednesday, April 09, 2014

STEMposium fun

by Staff Sgt. Veronica Pierce
39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

4/8/2014 - INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Some students have been known to say, "Why do I need to learn this? I'll never use this stuff once I'm out of school."  And for many that "why" was answered at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fair, held at Incirlik Unit School here, April 4.

STEM fairs help give students a glimpse of practical uses of these fields early on, instead of them finding out later in life. That is when most people typically realize math and science principles are needed to remain viable in the workforce, and needed for the U.S. to remain competitive globally.

Events like this are a new initiative for Department of Defense Education Activity, with its worldwide launch occurring in 2012. The focus of the STEM initiative is on real-world, problem-based learning, so students learn to use contemporary tools to solve future problems.

According to the National Math and Science Initiative website, when compared to international peers, U.S. students recently finished 25th in math and 17th in science in the world compared to 31 other countries. A STEM crisis is causing a decline in STEM research, which is needed for global and economic growth.

"It is important that we hold events like this for our students so they have an opportunity and venue to display, demonstrate, and share their knowledge and understanding of STEM fields," said Yolanda Harvin, IUS assistant principle. "Our STEM fairs are culminating events that provide students the chance to exhibit what they have learned throughout the school year. We are educating our students for success in the 21st century."

In order to educate students through events like the STEM fair, community support is crucial. The Incirlik community stepped up to the challenge with more than 30 volunteers from various units who assisted with set-up, logistical support and presentations.

Some of the units involved were Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 39th Medical Group, 39th Operations Squadron, 39th Civil Engineer Squadron, 39th Communications Squadron, Air Force Facility Energy Program, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who had hands-on demonstrations showing how STEM plays an important role in daily operations.

American Forces Network-Incirlik exhibited radio wave capabilities by providing music and also conducted live interviews of participants at the STEM fair.

39th CES Explosive Ordnance Disposal's booth also gained lots of student interest as they displayed various inert examples of ordnance and improvised explosive devises along with tools used to protect EOD technicians when rendering a device safe such as the F6A robot and bomb suit.

"In the EOD career field STEM is essential to any operation big or small and allows us to operate in a safer, more efficient manner," said Airman 1st Class Nicholas McManus, 39th CES EOD technician. "STEM has a hand in everything we do, whether it's detecting and preventing exposure to chemical and biological agents, assisting us in calculating safe distances for an explosion' blast overpressure and fragmentation, or being able to remotely handle IEDs through the use of robotics, and even simpler methods such as the use of ropes and pulleys."

Attention wasn't solely on military displays as students seemed to enjoy the various booths put on by their peers as well. Student booths included roller coasters, kinetic sculptures, a solar system, Mutant Animals of the Amazon and Women in STEM cereal box projects.

One of the student displays came from IUS fifth-grade teacher Jaqueline Farmer's class.

The project titled "Ecostein's Park" was a model of an amusement park complete with moving parts. Students were on hand to explain how STEM played a role in operating and constructing the park.

"It was really fun building the Ecostein's Park project," said Skyla, an IUS fifth-grade student. "Learning how we use STEM to build the rides I love is really interesting!"

In addition to hands-on booths there were visual displays too, as the use of art can aid student understanding.

"Art helps make learning STEM concepts relevant and enticing to young children by highlighting how artists use STEM knowledge to enhance their art or solve problems," said Roberta Evans, IUS art teacher. "The arts give legs, feet, and wings to the knowledge we learn in STEM."

"When artists, scientists, mathematicians and engineers collaborate, not only do ideas become reality, but new ideas emerge, new solutions to problems and new insights to an understanding of the world around us are generated," she added.

All in all, the schedule was filled with ways of learning intended to be unique and fun through STEM and participants said they enjoyed the fair. The hope is events like this can lead to not only a better appreciation for STEM, but can also set students on the right path to future success both for themselves and society as a whole.

"STEM education matters in the U.S., and student performance in it must improve if America desires to remain globally competitive," said Farmer. "I truly believe our students need to be educated in STEM to be successful in our ever-changing, global society."

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