ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 17, 2021) – It’s never too early to spark interest in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, which is why the Army Futures Command (AFC) has developed an innovative program combining popular children’s stories and activities for early elementary students.
The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command – launched its virtual STEM@Home Story Hour program in December 2020 for kindergarten through second-grade students.
“Story Hour is a new concept we introduced just for the virtual environment. Targeting younger learners is challenging, especially online, so we research and plan each story hour to resonate with our young audience,” said Erica Bertoli, who leads the C5ISR Center’s Community Outreach team.
The books are a far cry from grandmother’s fairytales. The team carefully chooses contemporary children’s books recommended by the Next Generation Science Standards, which set expectations for what K–12 students should know and be able to do, according to its website.
“These books tend to feature young people as inventors or in other scientific roles, which helps us bring STEM to life for our active, young readers. They’ve been engaged throughout the stories, so we’ve been very pleased,” said Casey Laursen, the community outreach team member who oversees the program.
The virtual story hours also include C5ISR Center subject matter experts who volunteer to demonstrate STEM concepts to the children.
“We want the kids to be excited about STEM. They are our future, and we want them to pursue careers in science. Having them see that science can be fun will spark that interest,” said Lissette Rodriquez-Cabanas, a mechanical engineer who used baking soda to demonstrate the differing chemical properties of liquid elements.
After the story and demonstration, students are challenged with a STEM activity based on the book. Participants are encouraged to follow the six steps of the engineering design process: ask, imagine, plan, create, improve, and share. Once students complete their projects, they are asked to share them with friends and family as well as on the C5ISR Center Facebook page, with parental permission.
Following the reading of “Mechanimals” by Chris Tougas, 6-year-old Logan Sepulveda tackled a farmyard-themed STEM challenge by designing a machine called the Pig Bot 1,000, which milks the cows and carries the pails to the farmer.
“I like Story Hour because we get to make things, and I learned how to plan,” he said.
Army STEM education programs such as this play an important role in developing future problem solvers, noted Maj. Gen. John A. George, DEVCOM commanding general.
“None of us got to where we are without someone encouraging us. Sometimes we as adults can see things in kids that they might not recognize themselves. We need to show them the possibilities and empower them to be creative,” George said.
George and his wife, Shannon, guest-read “GNU and Shrew” by Danny Schnitzlein and helped the students think through each step of the engineering design process as they designed transportation that would help the book’s characters travel to the top of a mountain.
“Their creativity was refreshing and exciting. I loved watching them brainstorm and work together as a team. They were very excited about their ideas and worked it into the total process,” George said. “STEM outreach is a great chance to give back to our communities and our nation. I think anyone who invests in the hope, excitement and education of kids is richer for it.”
The C5ISR Center’s STEM@Home Story Hour is offered monthly, and each event is capped at 75 participants. The next story hour is scheduled for April 7. To register, or to find out more about the C5ISR Center’s STEM-based activities for children, visit the C5ISR Center Educational Outreach Program page.
The C5ISR Center is the Army’s applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army’s primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
The C5ISR Center is an element of U.S. Army DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is an AFC major subordinate command.