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'STEMposium' takes over Dahlgren School

by Andrew Revelos NSASP Staff Writer
Dahlgren VA | May 11, 2012

Former elementary and middle school students of a certain age may be hard-pressed to remember experiments as lively and engaging as the ones taken on by students of the Dahlgren School at a May 3 "STEMposium." Parents joined students and teachers at the culmination of the week long event to see the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experiments prepared by each class.

A panel of STEM professionals with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) addressed students in the Advancement Via Individual Achievement (AVID) program just before parents arrived. Their message to students was simple: understand the process of problem-solving and apply yourself.

"If you have a work schedule, time you can dedicate to homework, instead of waiting to the last second to finish everything, it will benefit you," said Stephen Dix, a system safety engineer.

Dixon volunteered his time alongside NSWCDD employees LaChanda Anaganwoke, Joel Gillespie and Kelvin Medina.

"We are fortunate to have great engineer role models here at Dahlgren," said Alice Herring, principal of the Dahlgren School. "We thank them for showing their enthusiasm as panel participants, guest speakers, and mentors."

Herring said teachers appreciated the message of the panel. "When panel members mentioned team work, organization, being able to summarize their findings and communication as key components to their success, the students asked, 'Did our teachers pay you to say that?'," recounted Herring. "While they didn't pay the panel to say that, they all certainly agree."

Teachers worked to not only bring home the importance of those skills, but to do so in a way that looked suspiciously like fun. Students in music class made phonographs; middle school students experimented with Lego robotics; fifth graders made Angry Birds launchers in what was the most raucous and popular experiment of the day.

Teacher Jackie Worthy's 4th grade "mined" for chocolate with two different types of chocolate chip cookies in an exercise that was startlingly comprehensive. Students not only had to calculate the cost of using different tools to extract chocolate, but also had to consider the value of the leftover cookie. The more damaged the cookie, the greater the cost of environmental cleanup.

Herring said the STEMposium experiments' close resemblance to the real world was by design. "The aim of the STEMposium was to kick off the use of the engineering process with students, parents and teachers to problem solve by using science, technology and math," she said.

"In the future, we hope to see current Dahlgren students serving in science and math fields and seeing the application of science and math in real world solutions."

Susan Gafford, educational technologist instructional support specialist for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) for the New York, Virginia and Puerto Rico district, applauded the STEMposium. "This is my first visit to the Dahlgren School and I'm very impressed," she said.

For Gafford, the STEMposium is a small but important piece of a bigger picture.

"STEM education is a big push within the Department of Defense (DoD) because [military leaders] know they need people in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math," she said. "So they've partnered with DODEA to put STEM professionals into each of our high schools to talk about their fields and how education prepared them to take on their projects."

Dahlgren, said Gafford, is uniquely qualified to undertake such a partnership.

"Dahlgren is the perfect place for this because there are so many STEM professionals here," she said. "It is a community of engineers and scientists and so students here have been able to learn from people who know how important it is to focus in school."

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