National Guard February 2012 : Page 34

Stimulating Young Minds By Andrew Waldman The STARBASE program transforms Air Guard bases into classrooms where students can see and touch the wonders of math and science ATIONAL GUARDSMEN KNOW what keeps their aircraft in the sky. They know, too, what prevents a bridge they built from buckling under the weight of a passing convoy. The answer is rooted in science. So, among the many duties Guardsmen handle, from fl ood relief to crowd control to battling stubborn insurgencies, is the task of helping young people grasp the concepts of math and science. It may be the Guard’s toughest as-signment. Getting students interested N in math and science is a challenge that educators have faced for years. U.S. students rank 25th in math and 24th in science among industrial-ized nations, according to an often-cited 2009 study from McKinsey and Company. Low-income students have the toughest time. Only 58 percent of third graders in low-income areas are able to solve math problems at their grade level. There are numerous initiatives meant to combat this problem, and improving science, technology, engi-neering and mathematics—commonly called STEM—education is an ongo-ing struggle with no easy solution. The Guard has played a role in improving STEM education since the 1990s when a Michigan teacher ap-proached a Guard unit about teach-ing these concepts through hands-on activities at the local Air Guard base. STARBASE, as the program came to be called, has reached more than 600,000 students, showing them the practical applications of math and sci-ence as it relates to a Guardsman’s job. The STARBASE mission is to serve school systems that might not have the resources to give students educa-tional experiences in STEM subjects outside of state and local minimum requirements. STARBASE programs usually target schools that have a low-income student population of 40 percent or more. It’s not a substitute for in-class instruction, but a value-added activity 34 | Na tional Guard

Stimulating Young Minds

Andrew Waldman

The STARBASE program transforms Air Guard bases into classrooms where students can see and touch the wonders of math and science<br /> <br /> NATIONAL GUARDSMEN KNOW what keeps their aircraft in the sky. They know, too, what prevents a bridge they built from buckling under the weight of a passing convoy.<br /> <br /> The answer is rooted in science.<br /> <br /> So, among the many duties Guardsmen handle, from flood relief to crowd control to battling stubborn insurgencies, is the task of helping young people grasp the concepts of math and science.<br /> <br /> It may be the Guard’s toughest assignment.<br /> <br /> Getting students interested in math and science is a challenge that educators have faced for years.<br /> <br /> U. S. students rank 25th in math and 24th in science among industrialized nations, according to an oftencited 2009 study from McKinsey and Company. Low-income students have the toughest time. Only 58 percent of third graders in low-income areas are able to solve math problems at their grade level.<br /> <br /> There are numerous initiatives meant to combat this problem, and improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics—commonly Called STEM—education is an ongoing struggle with no easy solution.<br /> <br /> The Guard has played a role in improving STEM education since the 1990s when a Michigan teacher approached a Guard unit about teaching these concepts through hands-on activities at the local Air Guard base.<br /> <br /> STARBASE, as the program came to be called, has reached more than 600,000 students, showing them the practical applications of math and science as it relates to a Guardsman’s job.<br /> <br /> The STARBASE mission is to serve school systems that might not have the resources to give students educational experiences in STEM subjects outside of state and local minimum requirements. STARBASE programs usually target schools that have a low-income student population of 40 percent or more.<br /> <br /> It’s not a substitute for in-class instruction, but a value-added activity Meant to inspire further interest in science and math.<br /> <br /> “This is not used to replace the programs in the schools. It’s used to enhance them,” says Tech. Sgt. Alicia Stewart, the STARBASE program manager at the National Guard Bureau.<br /> <br /> The STARBASE concept was first pioneered by Barbara Koscak, an educator from Michigan who was recognized by the Reagan White House for her achievements in teaching math and science to her students.<br /> <br /> After noticing the interest her students had in military equipment like airplanes, she contacted leaders of the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air Guard Base and asked them to demonstrate how STEM concepts were integrated into their high-tech jobs and equipment.<br /> <br /> Initially, the program was funded with grants from private organizations and called Project STARS. In 1993, Congress allocated funds that allowed expansion into seven states. Today, sites are located in 34 states, territories and the District of Columbia, Stewart Says, and growing.<br /> <br /> The program targets fifth-grade students. Generally, an entire fifthgrade class attends a five-day session.A small staff of educators and support personnel run each STARBASE program.They coordinate with Guardsmen, who are volunteering their time.<br /> <br /> “It’s action-packed from the minute they get here to the time they leave,” says Sherry Pawelko, the director of the Nebraska STARBASE program located at Penterman Armory in Lincoln, Neb.<br /> <br /> Pawelko says the week starts with a test to assess the level of understanding Students have of STEM concepts.<br /> <br /> From there, the program launches into its curriculum. Certified teachers instruct students in scientific concepts.<br /> <br /> Students then use the knowledge to complete hands-on experiments and projects.<br /> <br /> Chemistry and physics experiments, navigation and mapping, computer-aided drafting and robotics are among the areas students address during the five-day seminar.<br /> <br /> Students build model bridges that must survive stress tests and launch soda-bottle rockets using pressurized water. Many STARBASE installations also have three-dimensional printers that can create small objects from the students’ computer designs.<br /> <br /> The hands-on projects open the eyes of students who are not exposed to science in such an exciting format, Pawelko says.<br /> <br /> “Students who have difficulty in [classroom] situations have a terrific time in STARBASE,” she says.<br /> <br /> STARBASE participants tour the military facilities and are given upclose looks at military equipment.Guardsmen show them airplanes, vehicles and control rooms and explain the scientific concepts behind them.<br /> <br /> For many students, this is a new experience. Bruce Medaugh, the director of the STARBASE program at the 110th Airlift Wing in Battle Creek, Mich., says STARBASE often offers students their first look at an airplane, let alone the chance to sit in a cockpit.<br /> <br /> “A lot of these kids have very limited life experience, so just to get into the airplane ... is a wonderful opportunity for them,” he says.<br /> <br /> But Medaugh says the most practical and complete lesson actually comes when the students visit the wing’s fire department. Guard firefighters explain the many scientific Principles that are applied to various types of fire fighting.<br /> <br /> “It’s a perfect place to take the kids because that’s where it all comes together in real life,” says Medaugh.<br /> <br /> Medaugh says his program benefits greatly from its relationship with the wing. The civil engineers have helped renovate classrooms and almost every other department has volunteered time in some form or another.<br /> <br /> The Guard reaches more than 40,000 students annually in its fifthgrade STARBASE program. Summer programs and an after-school program for middle-school students called STARBASE 2.0 increase the numbers.And more sites will be added this year, says Stewart.<br /> <br /> Both Medaugh and Pawelko say program schedules fill quickly and some classes have to be turned away due to lack of space and resources.<br /> <br /> Medaugh, who was a Guardsman for almost four decades, says it’s natural for the Guard to be involved in STARBASE.<br /> <br /> “With the National Guard’s focus on nation and community,” he says, “STARBASE is a perfect fit.”<br /> <br /> Andrew Waldman can be reached at(202) 408-5892 or at andrew.waldman@ngaus.org.

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