LA PLATA, Md. (Oct. 13, 2009)—Exciting things are happening behind closed doors in a science classroom at William B. Wade Elementary School. Science teacher Margaret Peg Whiting and a group of fifth graders are learning about motor rotations and sensor controls for robots, aquatic and marine life in the Chesapeake Bay, and how to draft and produce an environmental-based research proposal. These students are one of six groups of Charles County Public Schools students participating in the 2009-2010 National Defense Education Program In-School Science Technology Engineering and Math Program (STEM).
The program is provided to fifth graders at Wade, Indian Head, Dr. Thomas L. Higdon, Eva Turner and J.P. Ryon elementary schools, and to seventh graders at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, through a partnership between the school system, the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) and the National Defense Education Program. This years theme is Save the Bay and the goal is for students to learn and investigate current environmental problems with the Chesapeake Bay, to understand the impact of those problems, and brainstorm to create potential solutions through a research proposal. The program runs for 16 weeks and will end in a robotics, research proposal and team interview competition between all participating school teams.
Engineers, environmentalists and students affiliated with NSWC serve as mentors to help students work with robotics, engineering challenges and scientific investigations studying the Chesapeake Bay. Each mentor spends at least one and a half hours of class time per week with students.
The program also requires students to conduct scientific investigations on different Chesapeake Bay issues. Expert lecturers will visit each school to talk to teams about water and marine life in the Chesapeake Bay. Students will take field trips to study fish seining and Bay conditions. The experts, along with the robotic mentors, will help guide and focus student teams on their research topic proposal.
Monique Varlas, instructional specialist for STEM programs, said the goal is to provide all schools with an in-school or after-school robotics program. The hope is that this program will be self sustaining, even if the partnership ends. Six schools are participating in the program this fall, and an additional six schools will participate this spring. The majority of the schools participating in the program this spring worked with the Save the Bay challenge last year, and will learn a new robotics program that has a stronger math focus, Varlas said.
At the end of the 16-week program, students will compete in a Save the Bay Robotics Challenge on Dec. 19 at North Point High School. The event will feature two levels of competition: one for fifth-grade teams and one for seventh-grade teams. All teams will be required to complete eight challenges with their robots, including cleaning up a power plant, delivering oysters to the Bay, preventing land erosion and algae blooms, upgrading water treatment plants and removing sediment from the Bay.
Students will also participate in teamwork and technical interviews, and will be judged on their research projects, which will be based off one of the eight robotics challenges. Trophies will be awarded to winners in each category and to the top three teams.
Source: Charles County public school system