By Jennifer Aldridge
WIESBADEN, Germany - A live video stream of eighth-grade physics students displayed on Jason Cade's computer screen. After a quick audio check, Cade, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District project manager and mining engineer, with the assistance of his colleagues, used face-to-face video conferencing to teach a lesson on roller coaster engineering to Wiesbaden Middle School students Dec. 19.
Cade asked: "How do roller coasters work?" During the next 30 minutes, Cade and the students discussed the physics behind the thrilling train with no engine.
"Young minds were influenced today with real-life professionals who had the firsthand knowledge of how gravity and the law of physics work in real-life situations," said Susan Hargis, the Wiesbaden Middle School principal.
Cade and his USACE Leadership Development Program teammates coordinated the e-learning session with Elaine Young, a middle school science teacher. The LDP team is working with local Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe to identify opportunities to bolster student interest in science, technology, engineering and math subjects. Web conferencing is a simple, convenient way to present STEM content to the school audience, Cade said.
The lesson was delivered via GoToMeeting software, a cutting-edge learning and teaching tool, Hargis said.
"As a principal, watching this type of 21st-century learning is so exciting," Hargis said. "Sitting in the classroom during the GoToMeeting class as an observer, I felt so honored to be part of this partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."
The roller coaster e-lesson was purposefully developed to tie into the current class curriculum. During the half-hour seminar, students demonstrated a basic understanding of potential and kinetic energy -- the relationship between the two is the key to coasters. Cade presented material in an interactive format, frequently asking questions about gravitational pull, friction and inertia to keep the students engaged.
"This is a more exciting approach to engineering," Cade said. "There is an exciting side to the profession."
Raquel Blankenhorn, a fellow LDP team member and district contracting specialist, could tell the kids were relating to the subject matter because of their responsiveness.
"Three, four, five hands would go up when Jason asked a question," Blankenhorn said. "I think they were learning without even realizing they were learning."
The roller coaster lesson was a great platform from which to explain engineering concepts. Teaching something kids are interested in is phenomenal, Blankenhorn said.
Through presentations like this, Cade hopes to attract young students, especially minorities and females, to specialty engineering fields.
"I am actually the only black mining engineer in the state of Illinois," he said. "My goal is to
educate minorities and women about nontraditional engineering."
Videoconferencing with students is a simple way for USACE to add value to the classroom and encourage future generations to consider STEM professions such as engineering.
"We bring real life to the classroom," Cade said. "Folks in this building have the credentials to talk about things teachers only deal with on a theoretical basis."
The e-learning format is the "perfect venue for engineers to teach and inspire," Hargis said. It enables district professionals to interact with students in Wiesbaden and around the world. It is the communication medium of choice for the district and the school because it's accessible and convenient.
"As a presenter, I avoid driving to the school, parking, finding the classroom -- that takes time," Cade said.
On the day of the GoToMeeting lesson, the LDP team gathered in the conference room, set up the webcam and virtual meeting, and presented in less time than transiting would have required for an in-person visit.
"Thirty minutes of our time isn't much to give up for education," Cade said.
The Wiesbaden Middle School science department plans to continue this type of "learning adventure" once a quarter. Hargis is confident that partnering with students in a collaborative, creative community will benefit everyone.
"You are filling my heart with joy and hope for our students' future," she said.
Editor's Note: The USACE Europe District LDP team has two additional Web conferencing sessions with local Wiesbaden schools in March and May. The team will also support Engineering Week in February and a school field trip in April.