The US Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is best known for their usual work of making certain that the US armed forces have the best and most secure information technologies available, but another one of their goals is ensuring that those technologies keep improving. And they do this at the most grassroots of levels–firing up kids to learn and teach themselves about information technologies.
This November, Erica Bertoli, educational outreach program manager at CERDEC, is hard at work doing precisely that. She and her small team partnered with Cecil Manor, a small elementary school in Elkton, Maryland, for a week-long program called STEM Superstars. The three-year-old CERDEC initiative’s goal is to get young students passionate about the STEM cores of science, tech, engineering, and math, and they do it with hands-on lessons in creative problem solving.
During their week at Cecil Manor, Bertoli and her team asked the kids who their favorite superheros are. Bertoli’s, she said, is Iron Man, because Tony Stark’s only superpower is that he is an inventor.
In the lesson, students were given a challenge: they were in a broken shuttle en route to the space station and had to build a beacon to guide rescue efforts. With recent movie release The Martian prominent in their minds, students broke into groups to design and build prototypes using only a limited supply of materials. Their ideas ranged from light-emitting robots to solar-powered beacons with battery back-ups, and each team was proud to present their “working” prototype.
Bertoli says the most exciting part of the job is that these students, in grades one through five, are all too young to have learned any fear of science. It’s not hard; when it gets challenging, it just gets more fun.