Chimacum students get summer STEM training from NASA

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 6/26/18

Thanks to NASA, a second summer class of Chimacum students has received a hands-on education in science, technology, engineering and math, at no expense to the local school district.From June 19 to …

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Chimacum students get summer STEM training from NASA

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Thanks to NASA, a second summer class of Chimacum students has received a hands-on education in science, technology, engineering and math, at no expense to the local school district.

From June 19 to 22, 15 students from grades fourth through ninth took a STEM-focused class provided for the second year in a row by the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline through NASA and funding from the University of Washington.

Chimacum Middle School science teacher Al Gonzalez hosted much of the class in his classroom, appropriately decorated with “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” memorabilia.

“NASA created NESSP to help provide STEM education to students who are underrepresented in those fields,” Gonzalez said. “That can include rural residents, like those of us in Chimacum, or any minority, or young women.”

This year’s NESSP class in Chimacum had five female students out of a total of 15, but Gonzalez reported the session was also open to schools and school districts throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

“Port Townsend has a class like this, too, only it’s more for high-school students, and focused on flight,” Gonzalez said. “Our class at Chimacum, last year, centered around robotics, but this year (we) expanded it to earth science studies.”

Gonzalez explained in addition to building and programming robots, as they did last year, this year’s students used robots and other tools to collect data.

“It hasn’t really been a challenge for these kids, because even if their mothers signed them up for this class, they all want to be here,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, they’re giving up their first week of summer vacation to take this class, and yet, on the day when we tested out our robots, they were so attentive to the results. They didn’t even take a break for lunch. They just snacked as they worked, non-stop, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.”

Fortunately for Gonzalez, not only the snacks, but all the educational materials for the course are provided through NESSP.

“We even have autonomy in picking our projects,” Gonzalez said. “If we were doing electronics, they’d supply us with electronic kits. If we’d gone with rocketry, they would have supplied us with the materials and instruction for water bottle rockets. They give us just about everything, which is a dream come true for regular educators.”

Gonzalez deemed the hands-on component of the course a vital aspect in keeping kids so engaged, an assessment at least two of the students this year agreed with.

Caitlyn Boyd and Jacob Richardson both completed eighth grade shortly before starting this year’s NESSP course. Both students credited their mothers with signing them up for the class, although this year was Richardson’s second outing.

“I’ve been interested in space and science since I could remember,” Boyd said. “I’d never done a project like this before, though. It was really fun. I didn’t expect it to cover all the ground that it did.”

Richardson had enjoyed last year’s project but appreciated the greater degree of “formatted structure” in this year’s program, as well as the broader variety of activities, including not only building robots, but writing the code for their programming.

“I had no idea what I was doing with the robots at first,” Boyd said. “Robotics is a lot of trial and error.”

Richardson disagreed.

“It’s actually not that hard,” Richardson said.

Richardson expects he will work with robotics as an adult, while Boyd’s plan to go into aeronautic engineering was only strengthened by her experiences in the NESSP class.

“I tend to obsess over different subjects until I burn myself out,” Boyd said. “This class was great because (it) wasn’t a traditional classroom. It was way more interactive.”

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