I recently had the awesome privilege of witnessing 40 middle school students representing the Aledo, Azle, and Fort Worth school districts participate in an academia event titled – The 2014 STEM Challenge: Mission Possible. Sponsored by Bell Helicopter, the event took place at the Texas County College, Center of Excellence for Aviation Transportation and Logistics building at Alliance Airport.
During orientation, the topic of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) was introduced as it related to the student’s activities. The activities involved the science of aeronautics, the principles of technology, the application of engineering, and the relationship to mathematics.
Working in groups to encourage collaboration, their first activity involved altering a simple whirly device (propeller on a stick) to maximize air time with an applied weight load. Their second activity involved applying the principles learned to a quad-copter and creating an obstacle course with a few required elements of difficulty.
As I shadowed the eager students and visited with Bell employees, I found myself equally excited. Here is why – recent legislation known as HB 5 placed the spotlight on a number areas related to public education. In a single day, I witnessed the focus on STEM, industry and community involvement, student engagement, and a foundation for future programs.
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The focus on improving STEM curriculum is now a reality. STEM disciplines influence multiple pathways leading to a wide range of career fields. Our future plumbers, doctors, architects, and astronauts are among the exhaustive list of occupations to be touched by the focus on STEM.
Business and industry involvement is critical if public education is to provide a productive workforce. In most cases, their involvement is traced back to individuals who care about their local public schools. In Aledo, community member and Bell Helicopter senior aeronautical professional Vernon Anderson is responsible for fostering a partnership between industry and public education. In doing so, he also exemplifies community engagement.
My greatest joy came when witnessing student reactions as they were introduced to the world of STEM in a project-based learning environment.
The little girl at the back of the large classroom during orientation who hesitantly raised her hand to correctly answer a question already missed by two others regarding Newton’s Laws of Motion. She showed me a delicate foundation of courage and confidence growing stronger.
The enthusiastic 7th grader who carefully chose his words as he explained to a Bell Helicopter table leader why he altered the propeller to maximize time in flight – an alteration that I observed to be the significantly different from the rest. He showed me an attribute of unique creativity that I hope his parents and teachers will continue to nurture.
At the end of the day, I could not help but reflect on a message point Vernon Anderson shared with the 40 middle school students. He said, “Although you are divided by schools and in groups, the activities today should not be considered as “competition” – instead consider them as “challenges.” He drove his point home by saying, “Competition creates winners and losers. In the world of education, challenges create opportunities for ingenuity, innovation and creativity. Today – by being here, you are all winners.”
And I smiled.
Bobby J Rigues is on the Aledo ISD School Board, a Leadership TASB Class of 09 - Master Trustee, and is the creator of “Make Education a Priority.”