There is increasing outcry over the need for improved science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. It's such an important issue that it's become a political hot button. Many are lobbying for more government funding of STEM programs as part of a broader strategy to bring US manufacturing and innovation back to its glory days.
Design competitions are one way vendors are doing their part. By sponsoring teams at the grade school, high school, and university levels, they hope to ignite that competitive spark that nurtures a lifelong love of technology and draws students into engineering professions.
Click on the image below to see highlights of the projects borne from some intense design competitions:
The Gerber-sponsored student team's robot in the FIRST Robotics Competition has a tank tread conveyor system that is designed to draw game pieces in the form of racket balls into the system and up into a basket. (Source: Gerber Technology)
That brings back great memories, too, Jon. I remember we set up a fan for our son to use to run his tests with his wind turbine in the hallway of our house. He used his Dad's meter to measure the voltage in response to the wind speed.
After he built three different model rockets to evaluate how aerodynamic each design was, we made it a picnic at the park and shot off the rockets and measured the altitude of each. That was a lot of fun.
As a woman, I think you are more on the mark, Dave (Besides, I have a terrible memory so I have to be logical LOL)It can be initimidating to work in a mostly male environment - it takes the ability to be flexible and to have a sense of humor and not take things too seriously at times,while always maintaining your integrity. I have also had to prove myself more than my male colleagues on some occasions because of cultural biases.
Hi, Nancy. My Dad helped me with science-fair projects, but I did the work. Dad used the power saw and worked with me to figure out dimensions and took me to buy chemicals and supplies. In high school, though I was pretty much on my own with electrical projects that involved relays, switches, and diodes. Good fun.
I've seen that too, Beth, regarding the push for women in STEM. DeVry University invited me to speak to a group of high school counselors that they were hosting, and asked me to speak specifically about women in engineering.
Jon, I think you are right on the mark about introducing kids to STEM in fourth and fifth grades. Science fairs are a great way to do just that - we always made it a family affair in that while our son did the work, we supported him and cheered him on, taking an active interest and helping him to understand how to accomplish his task. He made a wind turbine in third grade, a hovercraft in fourth grade, and did aerodynamics in model rocketry in fifth grade. He just got accepted into early college high school. As parents we have always made education a priority without pushing - by trying to instill a love of learning, and we started early.
If my area is any indication, very few parents set limits on kids activities. I think as parents we have to set a fine line between encouraging participation and performance in programs, whether it's sports or a FIRST robot competition, and becoming so blindsided to the win that we interfere to the point where it's a real turn off for the kids involved. And just because a kid walks away at some point from a love of robots or science fairs, doesn't mean they won't come back to the vocation especially if it's not pushed on them.
You're right about burn-out, Beth. I wonder how many parents set limits on kids activities and say something like "choose one or two," rather than let the kids try to do everything. And we have all seen pushy parents who thinks must endure the stress of too many activities. As a kid, I got pushed into music and hated playing an instrument. Maybe three years of band looked good on my college application, but it killed any interest I had in music.
I think hooking kids early is important as well although you have to consider the burn-out factor. Parents and mentors can be a problem. You can see this in everything these days--from sports to recreational clubs to college essays. Helicopter parents trying to recapture or perhaps capture for the first time their glory days while having this obsessive focus on winning. Does our kids no good.
Students start to develop keen interests in math, music, science, art, sports, and other areas in the 4th and 5th grade (ages between about 8 and 11). That's the time to introduce STEM information in class activities. If we wait until they get to high school, many of the elementary-school kids with an interest in STEM-type activities will have found something else to get involved with.
I'm no fan of FIRST. I have talked with teams where parents and "mentors" took over and the kids didn't get involved much in the project. Also, a few years ago several parents on different teams said most of the team spent all its time on raising funds rather than working on the final project. It costs a lot of money to enter a FIRST competition. I recommend our schools take a different path to STEM programs and activities.
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