REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Students delved into science as they designed, engineered and built hovercrafts, a wind tunnel and a planetarium during a six-week Army program this summer.

Eighth- through 12th-grade students gathered at a U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center laboratory to boost their science and math skills.

Jessica Long led five teachers during the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program. She teaches math at Liberty Middle School in Madison, Ala.

"In the classroom, it's 'How does this apply to me? When am I ever going to use this?' Anytime a student can see how what they are learning is used in everyday life or career fields, it is more meaningful to them and they want to know more about it," Long said. "If it is something they are interested in, they enjoy learning about it and work harder to do so."

Students also probed the fields of solar- and hydrogen-powered cars, robotics, rockets, steam engines and telescopes.

GEMS is part of a national effort to increase the number of students who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, said Gayla McMichael, STEM education and outreach manager for AMRDEC.

The hovercraft module was a success, Long said.

"The students really enjoyed making a machine that would hover and carry one of their teammates," Long said. "They were given a basic overview of how to create a hovercraft and the materials, but they had to design and engineer it on their own.

"It was really fun for them to take something from start to finish like that, testing it and working out the kinks and then compete with it against others."

Nate Pahman, a Liberty Middle School algebra teacher, assisted with GEMS and urges educators and parents to support students' science development.

"I believe students need more hands-on engineering and design challenges in the classroom," Pahman said. "We need to make sure our children are being challenged on a daily basis and are involved in problem-solving type activities."

McMichael said 115 students participated this year at Redstone Arsenal. They came from Alabama, as well as Texas, Tennessee and New York.

Students can apply online and pick from eight locations, McMichael said. For more information, go to