by Isaac Windes for the Beaumont Enterprise | read it >
Students at King Middle School spent an hour Tuesday racing against time to craft sturdy space capsules that could withstand a fall from atop a chair as part of an immersive traveling STEM lab that stopped by the school.
Beaumont was the latest stop of the mobile STEM lab created by Learning Undefeated, a Maryland-based non-profit that has partnered with the Texas Education Agency to provide STEM exposure to underserved communities.
“What we are doing here is going across the state of Texas providing students with hands-on STEM,” Desurae Matthews, the Education Program Lead for Learning Undefeated, told The Enterprise. “We are trying to introduce them to science at a young age.”
Students were put into teams and given a brief history lesson on space capsules before working together to craft their own protective capsules for Lego figurines.
“I think this in particular is a really good experience for them because it is actually exposing them to STEM on this level,” King Science teacher Tina Hickman said. “Most kids are hands-on these days, and now they will have some background knowledge if they do decide to be an engineer.”
One of those students was Jeremiah Lee, who used bubble wrap and tape with his team to build a capsule.
“We didn’t know where to start and we didn’t have much time to do it,” Lee said. “We wanted to make sure that if it were to fall it would be able to stay together in any condition.”
Lee said the experience increased his passion for science, a field he could see being his career one day.
“I told my mama I was planning on being an engineer,” he said. “Last year my fifth-grade teacher Mr.Rodriguez would make science fun, he would make songs about it and have each person in the classroom say a part of the song.”
Sparking that passion at a young age is a strong priority for Hickman and Beaumont ISD, one that has been difficult with the barriers presented by the pandemic.
“I do try to give them hands-on experiences within the constraints of COVID,” Hickman said. “I don’t want to just limit them to individual bookwork, I still want them to experience some type of normalcy within a group, of course safely.”
The constraints of COVID have made the mission of Learning Undefeated even more important.
“Because they are unable to do all the normal field trips at school anymore, with this mobile STEM lab we basically bring the field trip to them,” Matthews said. “It is a field trip in the parking lot.”
Learning Undefeated first toured the Texas coast with one of their mobile units after Tropical Storm Harvey ravaged coastal communities.
“When the storm hit we were like, ‘Why don’t we send one of the mobile labs to Texas?” Matthews said. “There are so many schools without equipment, without lab space … so we originally only saw schools in severely impacted areas.”
Districts visited included Port Arthur, Vidor, and Little-Cypress Mauriceville.
The success of the program evolved into a full-fledged partnership funded by the Texas Education Agency.
Tori Bishop, the education coordinator for the non profit, said the activity Tuesday helped students apply some of the knowledge they had been learning about space capsules.
“We get them to think about engineering and in that process we have them build a space capsule,” Bishop said. “Then we test to see if it works, then if it doesn’t work they go back, rebuild it and retest it again.”
At the end of the program, students had varying success, but all came away smiling, and with a new perspective on science.
Hickman, a said the activity fit well with her curriculum.
“I teach a little bit of everything,” Hickman said. “I teach physical science, so we just finished our unit on space so this works really well for them.”
Jaliah Strother, another student whose favorite subject is math, said it was refreshing to get out of the classroom.
“It took a lot of time, and we used a lot of tape,” she said of her capsule.
Quadarius Matlock said his team was able to work cooperatively with most of the available materials.
“It felt good to get out of the class,” Matlock said. “We are in class 24/7 except to go to lunch or go to another class so this was nice.”