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Readying for future: School challenges students’ minds during STEM FEST

Andrew Stephens and Cody Gentry, FRES sixth graders, paddle their way across the indoor pool of the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center during the culminating event of STEM FEST week April 15. (Photo by Jeremy Henderson)

Andrew Stephens and Cody Gentry, FRES sixth graders, paddle their way across the indoor pool of the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center during the culminating event of STEM FEST week April 15. (Photo by Jeremy Henderson)

Published: April 21, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 21, 2016) -- For students at Fort Rucker Elementary School, learning is a hands-on experience, and when learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, they aren’t afraid to get their feet wet.

Students participated in the school’s week-long STEM FEST, where their minds were challenged to come up with creative solutions through the engineering process, meet actual researchers and even get the chance to literally sink or swim during a culminating event where they had to build a boat.

“It was an exciting week, filled with collaboration, problem solving, mathematical calculations, science, research, team work and engineering,” said Dr. Vicki Gilmer, FRES principal. “This process is so important for students because these are the type of skills our students will need in the future.”

The week kicked off with a visit from Dr. Angus Rupert and Dr. Loraine St. Onge, researches from the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, as they shared various prototypes and inventions that were developed here on Fort Rucker for the benefit of Aviation and the Army.

After the presentation, Gilmer said the students in each grade level were issued specific design challenges. Second graders had the chance to design and build parachutes, while third graders were given the task of building catapults that could project various items to certain distances.

“I liked learning about parachutes,” said Ava Spence, second grader. “And learning about the materials that work best and making improvements was fun.”

Fourth grade students were challenged to build wind-up drag race cars out of recyclable materials and fifth graders were charged with building working cars made of pasta.

But the biggest challenge was given to the sixth grade students, said Gilmer, as they were challenged to build a boat that would actually float and have the integrity to carry at least two people. The students were divided into three teams and each team was tasked with creating the boat using specific criteria.

“Throughout the week, each grade level got the chance to experience the actual engineering process as they investigated characteristics of different factors of the process, including materials, length, weight, force, speed, distribution, and more,” said Gilmer, and during the culminating event, that challenge was tested.

On April 15, the sixth grade students got the chance to take their creations to the water at the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center’s indoor pool, and to complete their challenge, they had to be able to carry two students across the length of the pool in the presence of all FRES students and faculty.

Although not all boats made it across the pool, the challenge was less about making sure the end result was a success, but more about the process and how to improve.

Ben Baguley, sixth grade student and captain of one of the boats said he enjoyed the learning process and getting the chance to apply what he’d been learning throughout the year.

“We have been learning about this all year, so I really liked that we were able to make a real creation using everything we have learned about,” he said.

“These students have a higher set of thinking skills, and that’s what we’re dedicated to doing – making them prepared for success in the future,” said the FRES principal. “This was a terrific way to celebrate STEM FEST Week.”

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