by Tierney Gallagher
When the challenge involves a student-made glider and three goals of distance, time aloft, and accuracy, NASA space shuttle astronaut Pat Forrester, adjunct faculty for Clemson University’s College of Health, Education, and Human Development (HEHD), can probably give you a few pointers. That’s exactly why he was on hand during the glider challenge held recently at the Lockheed Martin hangar located at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), formerly the Donaldson Center airport.
Forrester’s role at Clemson is to assist educators integrate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education activities into the curriculum. He believes the challenges facilitate students' learning of STEM concepts through application or what is known as integrative STEM education. "It's a great way for students to learn to problem solve, design, and work as teams." said Forrester. "They're learning math, science and engineering while working within a design process. They're learning and remembering more than they would in the classroom, not just another typical day at school."
The Anderson, Oconee, Pickens (AOP) Glider Challenge was held Thursday, April 25, 2013, at the SCTAC in Greenville, SC. The event was hosted by Lockheed Martin. Eighteen AOP teams participated in the competition, including teams from Dacusville Middle, Edwards Middle, Gettys Middle, Liberty Middle, Palmetto Middle, Pickens Middle, Powdersville Middle, Riverside Middle, Simpson Academy, and Starr-Iva Middle.
The Glider Challenge is designed to supplement the science curriculum and is intended for eighth-grade students whose teachers are using an integrative STEM education approach. The Glider Challenge joins teachers, students, and industry volunteers in an exploration of physical science while addressing essential scientific, technological, and mathematic concepts and skills. Before the competition began, Forrester gave a presentation on gliders, his gliding experience, and shared a video of the space shuttle landing as a glider.
Initiated by the Anderson, Oconee, Pickens STEM Council, more than 70 eighth-grade students from surrounding districts were separated into 17 different teams. Integrating the forces of thrust, lift, drag, and weight, student teams set out to build the best glider. The teams competed in four glider challenges: total flight; distance; time aloft; accuracy to a target; and artistic design.
While students enjoyed competing against each other, these challenges were more than just fun. They help students to learn core state education standards and other skills like problem solving, team building and communication. By learning how these gliders fly and testing them, students put key STEM concepts in action.
Clemson University graduate Barbara Nesbitt, Ph.D., coordinator of Early Childhood, Elementary and Instructional Technology for the School District of Pickens County, believes that the benefits of the challenges are two-fold. "Children take two things take out of project-based learning," Nesbitt said. "They develop the skill set to be a part of a team and also learn the science behind the project. They get both hard and soft skills, and that's what our business community wants us to produce - kids that work."
Forrester said that students understand STEM concepts better through these challenges because they like learning this way. "This makes learning relevant, fun, and typically we do better at things we enjoy," he said. “We like to compete and there is something beneficial about doing it this way.”
As a university, Clemson has partnered with the community to enhance education, and helping local elementary schools is an important part of this. In recent years, Clemson has played a significant role in teacher professional development as part of these challenges.
Bill Havice, Ph.D., an associate dean for Academic Support Services and Undergraduate Studies in the College of HEHD, is excited about HEHD's involvement. He said the University wants to help teachers have impact on students learning with age appropriate activities that deliver K-16 STEM content.
"As we look toward our future, we need talented people to excel in STEM disciplines," Havice said. "If we engage students early enough, maybe we'll have more young people decide to stay in school and take on challenges like this. School should be relevant and this glider challenge allows young people to be creative and come together to solve problems."