Saturday, February 9, 2013

Starbase Academy

Our Homeschool Group was recently privileged to attend one of the most academically enriching Field Trips that we have ever been on. Most of the trips that we do are designed for us to see something interesting or beautiful and to have a lot of fun together while doing it! That usually means a Living History exhibit.
The focus of Starbase Academy is different. Their focus is on what is called STEM ; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Each one of those areas was specifically highlighted in an absolutely engaging hands-on experience.
Our group was treated to a one day class by The Department of Defense at no cost to any of us as individuals.However, three dedicated teachers who do this full-time and two large classrooms cannot be free to us as a country ! The teachers emphasized that the reason they do this is to introduce students to these very necessary fields where they predict the jobs will be in the future. As the experiments were done, they discussed real world applications such as which fabric is more water resistant and stains less ? Soldiers need dry and clean tents so which fabric would be a better choice for that purpose?
One of the teachers was a soldier herself and related an experience of having a map that got wet and torn up while out in the field. The new maps are almost indestructible! They are made out of a fibrous material that cannot be ripped without tremendous effort and are waterproof. They also have pictures of wild plants that can be eaten and those that are poisonous in case the soldier is lost in the wilderness. Each child was able to take one of these maps home.
A science lesson was taught with classroom interaction that differentiated between physical and chemical properties.A great deal of scientific vocabulary was used with the students asked to discuss the  meaning of hydrophilic and hydrophobic. Volume, Density, Mass, Temperature were some other terminology used. I could not believe how much material was covered in an efficient yet unrushed manner. There was a lot of education going on here!
The lecture was was given only to introduce the experiment which really encouraged team interaction! Each group had to work together to solve problems. They continually asked for different folks to stand up to get the groups' supplies and there were different jobs to be done for each task. I thought that this mimicked the real world which does seem to have a lot of group projects.
The children were thrilled with the generosity of The Starbase Academy. In the morning, each kid built their own model car out of a kit. The glue needed to dry throughout the day. I was amazed at how much the students could do for themselves while following directions. The teacher built a model car at the same time under a magnifying projector and they referred to that. They were not babied! The Chaperones were  not allowed to "do" for the kids. We were there to monitor safety and behavior only and were told ahead of time that they did not want us to answer questions. The students were there to THINK and they did!
Each child had to got involved and be a part of the team. At first I wanted to control things ( no surprise there) but my sister-in-law, Wendy, who chaperoned as well, encouraged me to let things work out and they did. If a child had an idea better than the dominant one in the group, he or she needed to advance it for the sake of the project. That is some real life training there!

One of the really fun experiments done was to design a spaceship for Eggbert!
Eggbert was described as an astronaut going to another planet who would have to be able to survive a crash landing! Each group received an egg and had "500" dollars to spend on building a spaceship for "him". Most projects work with a budget so the team had to purchase tissue paper, a rubber band, cotton balls, a square of bubble wrap and 10 cm. of masking tape in very limited quantities. They worked together to secure Eggbert in his ship and then they were launched!

In turn, the ships were launched with its team at the ready. Although all the eggs cracked, one yolk didn't break so that one was declared the winner! This was great fun and the plastic clothes protectors and goggles added to the experiment!
After lunch, we went into the computer lab where each student had their own laptop computer to use. A gentleman guided the group for 45 minutes  verbally to click certain things to design a large digger using a CAD program. I didn't even try to understand this but the kids followed along like pros. At the end, their diggers became animated on the screen and every student designer had a copy of theirs printed out in color. They also had a 3D printer in the room which designed one of these diggers into a six inch handheld piece of plastic. It builds prototypes of what you can design on the computer so that  an engineer can actually handle a model of the design.
The last part of our day was to race the model cars using a carbon dioxide module. The raceway was super long and the cars were placed in heats.
The cars were alike except in the amount of glue that had been added when the student built it. Each kid weighed their car in grams and noted that to see what difference that would make in the speed at which it traveled.
The kids really enjoyed this as they did the entire day. My favorite part was that I was related to five kids in the class as my son, two nieces and two nephews were among the students. What a treat!!!! We were so impressed with the quality of the education and the intricate experiments that weren't cheap to put on but made available to our students. We all expressed our gratitude and asked if we could come back for another day of fun , education next year!