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DODEA schools expanding technology, math opportunities

Mason Payeur, who will be going into the seventh grade at Wiesbaden Middle School in Germany, makes adjustments to his robot at the Robotics Summer Day Camp at Wiesbaden High School earlier this month. "It's been real fun, best camp I've been to this summer," Mason said.
Mason Payeur, who will be going into the seventh grade at Wiesbaden Middle School in Germany, makes adjustments to his robot at the Robotics Summer Day Camp at Wiesbaden High School earlier this month. "It's been real fun, best camp I've been to this summer," Mason said.
Photo: Mark Patton

WIESBADEN, Germany — With the help of robots and real-world cyber scenarios, Defense Department schools are boosting their efforts to improve students' science, technology, engineering and math skills with an expanded curriculum.

Last school year, the Department of Defense Education Activity launched a pilot program as part of a nationwide initiative started by President Barack Obama in 2009 to spur students to excel in those fields.

This year, DODEA will offer at least one STEM-based class in robotics engineering, biotechnology engineering, gaming technology and green technology engineering at 18 schools, up from 11 schools last year.

"DODEA's main goal for STEM education is to increase the number of students, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups, who are prepared for post-secondary studies and careers" in the fields of math, science and technology, DODEA spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.

The biggest increase in STEM offerings this school year is in robotics engineering, tapping into students' interest in robots. Five schools in Europe, two in the Pacific and one in the U.S. are adding the course to their curriculum.

Wiesbaden and Vilseck high schools recently offered a Robotics Summer Camp for seventh- to ninth-grade students.

Frank Pendzich, a robotics engineering teacher at Wiesbaden High School, pointed out that his campers could have chosen to sleep late but instead chose to spend a week of their summer designing, programming and building robots.

"That intellectual curiosity is really what drives innovation," Pendzich said. "It gives me hope."

Faye Batey, instructional system specialist for career and technical education for DODDS-Europe, said the robotics engineering class is an example of using a tool that interests students to teach the engineering design process.

DODEA schools in all three theaters are getting the same training, equipment and materials for the four STEM pilot courses, Batey said.

The schools differ in their STEM events. Batey said the U.S. schools have the advantage of partnering with resources in their immediate area, and each school does its own STEM event, whereas in the Pacific, each of the four districts works on its own. DODDS-Europe introduced a STEMposium last school year that brought together students from all areas. It used military and local resources to provide a real-world scenario to challenge students to solve problems.

"What works best in Europe may not always work in Pacific and vice versa, but we do collaborate," Batey said.

The military's relationship with DODEA schools is also helping to promote STEM.

For example, the Wiesbaden-based 5th Signal Command is launching its Cyber STEM Initiative, or CSI-Europe. Kristopher Joseph, 5th Signal Command spokesman, said students will have the chance to work with 5th Signal employees to solve real-world cyber challenges. Joseph said the program will start in Wiesbaden, but the long-term plan is to expand it throughout Europe.