Army stresses creativity, STEM not an either/or choice
August 27, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Where will you be in 20 years?
The closing ceremony for the 2013 Math and Science Summer Camp signaled more than just the end of summer; it marked 19 years of Army support for educational outreach in science, technology, engineering and math -- STEM.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics RD&E center, or CERDEC, has undergone several changes throughout the years; however, its goal has remained the same: helping usher in the next generation of innovative problem solvers by fostering STEM interest in students grades K-12.
"CERDEC had the vision to see that STEM education was going to grow into a national priority, so it's been a part of our organizational culture for the past 19 years. Army leadership has made STEM education a national priority because they know that for every scientist and engineer we develop, we help make the Army and the nation stronger. Each child who participates in a STEM program helps make our nation stronger," said CERDEC Associate Director Robert M. Zanzalari.
The Math and Science Summer Camp, one of CERDEC's signature STEM programs, is a gateway program for students who may or may not have a pre-existing interest in STEM. The one-week academic program is for students entering grades five through 10. Sessions are taught by certified teachers and feature a variety of hands-on activities, trips and guest speaker sessions.
The camp curriculum is designed to reflect areas of the CERDEC mission and run on an even/odd-year rotation so subjects will be complementary. This year, students used the basic principles of engineering design, electricity and circuits, and radio waves to build bridges, towers, radios (short wave and am/fm) and electronic devices like buzzers, speakers and remote controlled vehicles -- which were then used in team competitions. If the projects weren't built to specs, the students didn't have a chance to navigate the obstacle course or buzz in during STEM Jeopardy.
Activities were designed to foster critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and creativity.
"We wanted students to think about their thinking; a student may think he or she has it figured out and then the solution doesn't work due to unforeseen problems. So learning to collaborate was also beneficial for the kids," said Nate Kohlbatz, an instructor from Edgewood Middle School.
"It was not a one-sided rubric. We provided an objective and then encouraged the students to approach it with whatever creativity and prior experiences they had. All ideas were valid and we would investigate them all as long as at the end of the day they could present a process and rationale," he said.
The Math and Science Camp grew by 33 percent this year, taking fewer than 72 hours to fill the camp slots.
"There is a word-of-mouth that has built around this program in the community. It's exciting to see the number of kids applying who've been here before and come year after year as part of their summer because they enjoy the program," said Erica Bertoli, team lead for CERDEC Educational Outreach.
Sophomore Kenneth Szaniawski came from Brick Township, N.J. to attend the camp. It was his seventh and final year to participate in the program.
"I've kept coming back because this has been fun. It's not just the friends and the excitement, but the teachers, the learning and the experiments that help you out with future school work. Science and math are quite the learning, I must say, but it helps make sense of things. I think this experience has helped broaden my horizons and science background," said Szaniawski.
The Science and Math Summer camp is just one of several STEM programs offered throughout the year by CERDEC's Educational Outreach Office. The programs, which are designed to foster student interest and expand their knowledge, operate in accordance with the President's "Educate to Innovate" initiative and the U.S. Army's ongoing commitment to STEM Education.
Programs are designed to leverage the world class expertise of CERDEC as a STEM leader and to provide opportunities for students from Kindergarten to college to engage in meaningful STEM activities, thus supporting future generations of Soldiers by ensuring the American STEM pipeline is supported.
"We're bringing the word 'engineer' into the lexicon of the younger students. We use a lot of pop culture touchstones that kids already know, like Iron Man or Despicable Me, to teach that engineering is a creative science. We really try to excite those kids who look at things creatively but maybe don't think of themselves as a "science kid" because of the associated cultural image," said Bertoli.
"If I have a personal goal in working STEM outreach, it's to help break the paradigm that creativity and science are an either/or proposition. These should not be separate pursuits because there are few more inherently creative acts than science and engineering; there's absolutely no innovation without creativity," said Bertoli.
Registration for the 2014 Math and Science Camp will be available online, Feb. 1.
RDECOM, whose mission is to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers, is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.