Tuesday morning, a handful of elementary school-aged children visited Barton Community College where they built and destroyed towers, operated drones, built mazes, and learned the mathematical principles behind a popular college game played with a cup and a ping-pong ball.
Calm down. The activity, hosted by the Barton Community College STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Club, was a mini-camp to introduce students to careers in the physical sciences.
Kristin Hathcock is the STEM Coordinator at BCC. She has been teaching math through project learning for many years and, rather than teaching principles from the textbook, she teaches through playing games. Students learned about the physics and engineering of bridge building as they played Jenga, a block stacking game. Even at a young age, they can relate it to what they see in typical buildings and bridges, and it makes a connection to the real world, she said.
They begin to understand what causes things to stand or fall. Children as young as 2 years old playing with Legos can start to build these concepts, Hathcock said.
Earlier this year, the STEM Club acquired two small drones. Giant hoops were set up on one end of the gymnasium in the Kirkman Building for a drone race later in the morning.
“So drones are part of the new technology of the 21st century,” she said. Recently they’ve been put to work delivering packages, but also to deliver medications and telemedicine to first responders in rural areas.
“They’re being used in search and rescue, providing volunteers with access to specialists who can walk lay people through treatments as fast as possible,” she said. First established in the United Kingdom, pilot programs are currently operating in and around Las Vegas, Hathcock said.
Members of the STEM club learned how to fly drones last November from engineers involved with the first military drone programs, she added.
Two STEM club members, Ayi-Lissa and Fiona, graduated earlier this spring. Ayi-Lissa is interested in veterinary science, while Fiona is interested in nursing.
They were working on establishing a link between the drones and the navigating applications on their smart-phones. After some trial and error, they succeeded.
Meanwhile, the students worked through a variety of minute-to-win-it games which included building a tower from pieces of paper. They could work individually or in groups, and each would receive several tries with a goal of building the highest tower in the allotted time. Learning quickly through trial and error, each new tower proved to be better and taller than the last, and kids who worked in teams saw earlier improvements in design.
Students would also build a maze from Legos, and then race to see who could get a marble from one end to the other the fastest. Balance, timing, engineering and physics were all important factors.
Finally, there was “pong,” which can be mastered through the principles of trigonometry and calculus, Hathcock said.
Tuesday’s camp, and a biology mini-camp on Wednesday, were the first the club has been able to sponsor this year. Earlier camps had been planned but were postponed due to COVID-19 closures. Members of last year’s club have now graduated, so Hathcock is looking forward to building the membership from incoming students this fall.