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Middle East District engineers return to STARBASE Academy Winchester

Middle East District
Published Dec. 17, 2014
WINCHESTER Va. - Students at the STARBASE Academy build a popsicle bridge.

WINCHESTER Va. - Students at the STARBASE Academy build a popsicle bridge.

WINCHESTER, Va. - Engineer Bob Thomas adds weights to the bridge that students built to demonstrate load.

WINCHESTER, Va. - Engineer Bob Thomas adds weights to the bridge that students built to demonstrate load.

Local students from Frederick County’s Gainesboro Elementary School built bridges with two Middle East District engineers during a STEM presentation at STARBASE Academy at the Cherry-Beasley Readiness Center in Winchester.

Structural engineers Robert Thomas and Elizabeth Prusch delivered a presentation about engineering for Bethany Fauber and Gina Basham’s 5th grade students at the Winchester STARBASE Academy.

“STARBASE Academy is an excellent way to teach kids how much fun a career in STEM can be,” said Prusch. “I wish there had been something like this when I was in elementary school.  I have presented at two STARBASE sessions and have been impressed both times by how excited the kids are to learn and do hands on activities.”

STARBASE is a Department of Defense program designed to improve math and science skills for children ages six to 18 through hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and math topics. The program’s ultimate goal is to attract and prepare students for careers in STEM-related fields. It is federally funded under the Department of Defense. School districts do not pay a fee or tuition for children to attend, but are responsible for transportation to and from the Readiness Center.

The program includes hands-on, inquiry-based STEM activities with fourth and fifth grade students in our local Winchester City, Frederick and Clarke counties, said Susan Corrigan, STARBASE Winchester Program Director. “We use inquiry-based instruction which is all about students discovering answers on their own and coming to conclusions before I introduce the topic,” she said.

During the presentation Thomas explained that engineers invent, design and build things that matter while solving problems. During questions and answers about engineers, one student asked if it would be possible to have flying shoes one day. Thomas quickly replied, “I don’t know. You tell me. If you think so, and do the research and make the prototypes, maybe you could invent flying shoes one day.”

Prusch discussed the importance of teamwork. “You have to learn to work in a team,” she said. “You won’t always agree or get along with everyone on your team but you’ll have to find a way to work together and compromise to solve specific problems.”

Working in teams, the students eagerly accepted the challenge of building a bridge. They were given 100 popsicle sticks and a hot glue gun and asked to design and build a bridge that could hold weight. The time limit was just 60 minutes. Several teams had four different designs in front of them and seemed to be having issues working as a team. But in the end, all the teams presented bridges that held between 2.5 pounds and 47.5 pounds.

“The students at STARBASE Academy were very inquisitive, engaged, and receptive to learning,” said Thomas. “In fact, a great learning experience occurred when one of the teams considered scrapping the construction of their bridge and starting over midway through the competition. However, the team rallied, made modifications to their design, and their bridge successfully supported 47.5 pounds, the most weight of all the teams. It was a great example of ingenuity and perseverance, two critical qualities of successful engineers.”

STARBASE Academy consumes an entire week of class time, five hours per day for a full school week. The schedule is non-stop learning, experimentation and fun. Guest speakers from the local community are scheduled for each week, presenting their life experiences and education, followed by a hands-on STEM-related activity. This is the District’s third time assisting STARBASE Academy.