Rocketry, flight logs and payload do not exist in most fifth graders’ vocabulary. However, Argyle Elementary School students are not typical fifth graders. They are graduates of the Georgia National Guard’s STARBASE program at Dobbins Air Force Base.
The Peach State STARBASE program, which launched in 2002, aims to increase fifth grade students’ interest and ability in select science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics.
“We are helping [the students] learn a little more about STEM, specifically from an aerospace engineering perspective,” explained John McKay, director of Peach State STARBASE and the Georgia National Guard programs. “We teach them how to fly. We teach them 3D Computer-aided design (CAD) engineering. We do ballistic rocketry. We are trying to get them excited. We are trying to get them to develop a love of learning. We show them the coolness factor of science and math.”
Exciting, that’s how the Argyle students described their experience at STARBASE. The students, many of whom had never seen a plane let alone gone inside one, were eager to climb in a military aircraft pilot’s seat during the weeklong camp.
“I want to learn how to fly an airplane,” Argyle student Jancarlos declared.
His classmate Alexander wanted to learn how to operate all the “buttons” and “controllers” on the plane. Like Alexander, fifth grader Retal had never been in a plane, and she was “excited” about it.
Beyond tours of airplanes, the STARBASE program demonstrates to students like Alexander and Retal real-life applications of science and math.
“We learned about the metric system and how you measure to send food up [to the space station,” Retal shared.
STARBASE’S impact on students reached the ears of Georgia’s First Lady, Sandra Deal, who is a former sixth grade teacher.
While the Argyle students were calculating the amount of food they could send to space, First Lady Deal walked around the classroom watching the students working in groups.
“It was a great lesson for them,” said First Lady Deal on her first visit to STARBASE. “They were so involved and excited. I loved watching them because I love seeing students learn and be engaged.”
She would have loved to have had STARBASE available as a resource when she was a teacher. There are going to be a lot of jobs that require a science and math background, according to Georgia’s First Lady, and Argyle students may be the ones holding those jobs one day, thanks to STEM education initiatives like STARBASE.
The Argyle students enjoyed meeting First Lady Deal. Alexander wanted the Governor’s wife to recognize that Argyle students really know how to work hard.
“I’m really happy that she was here,” Retal added.
Due to the popularity of the STARBASE program, Argyle was on a waiting list for three years before securing a spot for 85 students this year. The waiting list for the Department of Defense-funded program currently includes 8,000 students.
The program may be popular with kids because they learn how planes fly, but it is attractive to educators for a different reason. STARBASE boosts students’ knowledge. STARBASE staff members test students’ course knowledge at the beginning and again at the end of the course. McKay said last year’s post-tests showed an average of more than a 75 percent improvement, which means the kids are learning and retaining the information at a very high rate.
McKay said STARBASE’s program is similar to NASA’s space camp, except the Georgia National Guard version is geared toward kids who could never afford to go to space camp. Schools only have to pay the cost of transporting the students to and from the camp.
When students attend STARBASE, McKay tries to inspire the students to stay focused on their dreams.
“It doesn’t matter what your current situation is, you can be successful and you can be successful in a scientific engineering way,” he tells the STARBASE students
On the first day of camp, Alexander already recognized that what he was going to learn at STARBASE was going to stay with him until he enters the working world. He was looking forward to sharing everything he learned with his mom when he got home.
“This knowledge will give them the self confidence to try new things,” First Lady Deal said. “I love to see students enjoy learning. I know if they catch the bug of learning they will love it all of their lives.”
Watch video of Argyle Elementary School Students visiting STARBASE: http://goo.gl/U9XVMS