The S&S team is proud to be the sponsor of the National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award for Afterschool for 2017. We are recognizing the nominees and winners for their accomplishments and dedication to the afterschool community. Benita Blackwell shares her experience as an afterschool professional, and how introducing the field of STEM to her students has had an impact on their lives and life skills.
I was introduced to the afterschool profession six years ago when I served a Certified Secondary Mathematics teacher in the public school system. This particular afterschool profession helped to enhance the academic enrichment with the student body of the school. With my enrichment area of expertise being Mathematics and Science, my students questioned me daily on when they would ever utilize the topics embedded in the curriculum in the real world. No matter how much I related the areas to their real world job content, I was still leaving my students stranded in an abyss, because it was not a part of the world they live in. They still could not see how limits relate to atoms and the atomic number; how basketball related to special right triangles; how vectors are associated with every sport; how mathematics can be a form of literature; how algebra, trig, calculus, physics, outliers, and standard deviations are used in the workplace (engineering, automotive, nursing, doctors, banking, accounting, pilots, scientist, biologist, designers, interior decorators, veterinarians, graphic designers, programmers, coding, architects), basketball, baseball, football, soccer stadiums and buildings, and much more.
After much self-evaluation, looking back on things that inspired me as a child, and my desire to become a certified STEM teacher, it dawned on me. I had learned best by constructing and building in order to incorporate the different learning aspects I was receiving in math and science class from elementary through high school. I decided to see how I could integrate performance-based STEM activities into the state curriculum to help enrich the student’s thought process and learning.
Upon my research, I came across the company STARBASE Robins, which has been implementing STEM learning in the Middle Georgia area for 20 years now. Upon completing my research, I discovered the posting for the Coordinator for their afterschool STEM mentoring program, and I was sold on the idea. The past 2.5 years has been very inspiring and enriching for me and the students we serve in our STARBASE 2.0 Afterschool STEM mentoring program. The afterschool profession is very important to me because it serves as an enrichment program to students. We introduce STEM to students at an early age to inspire them and introduce them to the world outside of high school and college. This not only introduces the students to STEM, but helps them evaluate and formulate goals in life that will help them be successful; with real world topics and activities.
During STARBASE Robins 2.0 Afterschool STEM Mentoring program, we serve 11 schools over 3 districts, where we introduce them to hand-on, problem based STEM activities and the Engineering Design Process. All of our students are entered into First Lego Robotic. By training our students to build and program EV3s according to the challenge presented, we are introducing students to real-world project based context that provides structure sequence in order to get students to think about patterns and problem solve (Carnegie Mello, 2014). We also introduce our students to every aspect of engineering (Civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and interdisciplinary-materials science, robotics, biomedical, agricultural), science, mathematics, and technology.
These subjects have helped us to introduce students to biomedical engineering by engaging in activities such as:
- Prosthetic hand, prosthetic leg, and brain surgery
- Aerospace engineering with rocketry and how it involves physics and mathematics
- Structural engineering by building bridges, bio domes, towers; materials engineering when completing our yearly NASA Challenge
- Electrical engineering by introducing snap circuits, and little bits
- Environmental engineering by introducing our students to bio domes, compost, decomposers, and complete a Bio Dome challenge
- Sports Engineering by completing the brain surgery helps and completing research about football helmet and concussion factors
- Software engineering with the introduction to Computer Aided Design and 3D modeling
- Agricultural engineering with activities like seed germination, grow tower
- Applied engineering with CAD and all NASA challenges
- Biological engineering and military engineering with the mentorship from our mentors
- Technology – programming, coding, and robotics.
These STEM activities serve as inspiration and an aspect of life-long learning to the students by supplying them with rigorous, real-world skills through the differentiation of hands-on performance based problems. This helps them to rationalize with aspects of the real world, think critically, and start evaluating or planning the path they would like to take to have an inspiring, successful, and engaging future and career. As a lifelong learner myself, introducing students and mentors into those acquired STEM skills helps to improve their life skills, people skills, social skills, soft skills, and hard skills to make them successful in life.
Through our curriculum and the dedication of our mentors (STEM partners), we have inspired our students to take risks and achieve their dreams. We have helped to groom future engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, service men and women, and much more. These students will continue to lead and inspire those of the future from the experiences they received through STARBASE Robins STARBASE 2.0. With my knowledge in Computer Information Systems, Information Technology, programming, coding, robotics, and my love for STEM, I am constantly inspiring female students to accept their giftedness and skills in science, math, technology, or even tinkering and expose it to the world. With this we have increased our number of females enrolled in our STEM clubs. Many have stated that I have inspired them to enter into programming, robotics, coding, engineering, and helped them to find their voice.
About the Author
Ms. Blackwell serves as the STARBASE 2.0 Coordinator for STARBASE Robins where she helps to create a program based on STEM where many districts in the Middle Georgia area desire to be a part of. She is a life-long learner who seeks to inspire every student and adult she communicates with. With a strong passion for STEM, she seeks to help mold future doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, scientist, and much more.