ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (August 23, 2016) - Houston, we have a problem.
The 22nd annual U.S. Army Materiel Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, Math and Science Summer Camp transported campers from Harford Glen Environmental Education Center in Bel Air, Maryland to a mission control center.
Inspired by the 1995 movie "Apollo 13," 72 seventh and eighth grade students were responsible for the lives of several "astronauts." Just like in the popular movie, which was based on true events, students had to figure out how to engineer a way to attach a square carbon dioxide filter to properly work in a round hole before the carbon dioxide levels become fatal for the astronauts.
To make the scenario as real as possible, CERDEC engineers filled in for the role of the astronauts.
"I do a lot of CERDEC outreach, it's a nice way to give back to the kids," said Frank Bohn, electrical engineer for CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration Directorate. "I was part of eCYBERMISSION as a kid. It was one of the turning points of my life in deciding in what I wanted it to. I decided then to go into STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and then eventually into engineering. Anytime I get to come out and maybe influence some of these kids to go into STEM, I try to do that."
While located in another room, campers could only relay instructions on how to build a modified air filter through walkie talkies and hope their instructions were detailed enough. The mission was successful if the astronauts were able to replicate each design under a strict time limit.
The CERDEC Math and Science Summer Program uses a fun, hands-on approach to learning, which enhances campers' interest in STEM. The summer camp is comprised of three one-week courses with curriculum structured for different grade levels each week.
Throughout the course of the three weeks, other CERDEC engineers like Bohn came out to the camp to meet the students, host activities and provide expertise and valuable insight into what a career in STEM looks like.
"The CERDEC Math and Science Summer Camp is really the flagship of the CERDEC Outreach Program," said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC Outreach team lead. "CERDEC has a historic commitment to youth and to STEM and to supporting the communities that we are within, and as part of that this camp has always been an opportunity for us to provide a chance for students from across our local community to engage in STEM in a fun way over the summer."
During the first week of camp July 25-29, 72 fifth and sixth graders explored the science and history of flight and aircraft design. Campers spent the week learning about Bernoulli's principle, aerodynamics and the engineering design process. All of their studying culminated in launching soda bottle rockets.
The following week, 50 ninth and 10th grade students took over Harford Glen to learn about renewable energy and the efforts being made to make the world clean. Students used critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and team building to solve the world's renewable energy challenge, while being given a safe place to experiment, learn and fail.
"There's no consequence for failing here," Bertoli said. "Especially when we're encouraging students into science, engineering and innovation. It's not enough to teach them. We also have to allow them the latitude to try and fail. Because that's the only way that anything interesting happens."
In addition to saving the lives of astronauts, the seventh and eighth graders spent the final week of camp, Aug. 8-12, focusing on other engineering and science references in popular culture.
For example, after learning how the movie "Home Alone" incorporated a Rube Goldberg machine, or an over-engineered design intended to complete a simple task, students were encouraged to create their own designs. During the week campers also created board games, and learned about research and comparative decision making based on research.
"Outreach and our commitment to the students is an important part of what CERDEC does," said Henry Muller, CERDEC director. "Our outreach staff work hard to create meaningful opportunities for CERDEC to engage with our community to address real needs. The CERDEC Math and Science Summer Camp is one example of that commitment."
Applications for the CERDEC Math and Science Summer Camp are accepted each year during the month of February. For more information about the 2017 season, check the Math and Science Summer Camp webpage later this year.
"Applications are strictly first come, first served," Bertoli said. "We do have a priority placement for children of currently active duty military. But beyond that, it is first come, first serve, and most years our sections are filled up before 1 p.m. on the day that registration opens. So we encourage parents to plan to sign into the website at 10 a.m. when the application goes live for the best chance to get a seat."
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