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Rusheon Middle School eighth graders Casey Ponack and Bailey Phillips count the number of notches on the gear mechanism in order to calculate the number of rotations it takes to align the large and small gear.

STARBASE has students applying STEM

Bossier schools students are experiencing what it’s like to make science fiction become science reality.

STARBASE 2.0 teaches students STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) by applying a science-based design to then engineer and build a prototype.

The three year program explores what it means to be an engineer with projects to complete.

“STARBASE is a leader in STEM education that inspires youth to strive for excellence in the STEM areas,” the program’s website states. “STARBASE Louisiana stands out as a leader within the STARBASE community with its proven history of outstanding performance and student success, and the exemplary support from its military, educational, and civic partnerships.”

DoD STARBASE Louisiana formed a new group of after school mentoring sessions in the fall of 2012 for Bossier Parish middle schools called STARBASE 2.0. The 2.0 curriculum is a continuation of the original STARBASE program, which provides fifth grade students an exciting 25-hour hands-on minds-on STEMcourse.

However, its focus is on advanced STEM investigations and engineering projects designed to further students along in their every day coursework.

Eighth grade students at T.O. Rusheon Middle School spent one afternoon learning about gears, something that sounds simple, but served as a basic investigation into what makes the small electric cars they will be building operate.

The final product will wrap up their year-long engineering design project, one that started with a generic model car and turned into a lesson on things like aerodynamics. Students have one goal to achieve – to successfully re-design and construct a small race car that performs better than the standard model they started with.

Benjamin Williamson, STARBASE 2.0 coordinator, said projects like this are specially designed to immerse students in a variety of fun activities that also apply to a real world setting.

“We want to get them excited about STEM subjects,” Williamson said. “These are actually applicable skills that they can be successful in. Our goal is to give them a positive experience and show them that learning can be fun.”

The 2.0 program works with students in a much smaller group setting for a prolonged period of time. The original STARBASE program meets with fifth grade students for five hours a day, totaling 25 hours from start to finish.

STARBASE 2.0, however, meets with students on a bi-weekly basis for an hour and a half after school session. During that time, students are immersed in hands-on investigative tasks while also gaining experience with the computer animated design (CAD) program and taking their regular classroom work a few steps further.

Deborah Lawrence, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Rusheon, said she was elated when STARBASE coordinators approached the school with the idea of starting a 2.0 program. Not only had she heard about the program, but she had experienced it with her own children and saw how successful the original coursework was.

“This really helps them develop a love for science and shows them that it can be fun,” Lawrence said. “They really get to see how STEM subjects work together too. This is really helping our students get one step closer to fulfilling their future career goals.”

STARBASE, a premier Department of Defense STEM program and sponsored by the 307th Bomb Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command, is dedicated to improving education by providing resources and training teachers to meet curriculum needs at the local, state and national level. Williamson said the collaboration with Barksdale Air Force Base has been a huge asset to the program’s success.

Not only are the airmen big supporters of STARBASE, but they are mentors and proof of real world STEM application. Msgt. William Floyd is a STARBASE volunteer from Barksdale Air Force Base who sees many benefits of the program.

“The things they are learning apply directly to my job,” Floyd said. “Ground equipment maintenance ties right in with constructing engines and gearing ratios. This program shows that they can actually apply the things they learn in class and not just by looking at a textbook.”

A future goal, Williamson said, is to hopefully pilot a program that will carry over into the high school level…a 3.0 version if they decide to call it that. Ultimately, Williamson said it’s about filling job demands in an ever changing workforce.

“There are more and more STEM careers every day,” he said. “Our goal is to train these students to eventually fill those jobs.”

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Sean Green is managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.