ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Elementary, middle and high school students from 10 schools met earlier this month at West Mesa High School where they launched rockets, tracked a pair of hot air balloon flights and played with flight simulators, among other activities.
The students were not just watching the rockets and balloons, but were active participants in the events, said Alma Ripley, an assistant principal at Carlos Rey Elementary, who is also the director of APS STEM Trajectory Initiative, which organized the event. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
For example, high school students assisted middle and elementary students launching rockets the younger students built in class.
And high school students weren’t merely watching the hot air balloons that were launched, they tracked the
balloons’ height and the distance they traveled as part of an in-depth experiment, Ripley said.
“This is something that is real and something that kids could get into,” she said, explaining the exciting thing about a STEM curriculum is that it goes past the classroom lecture and allows students to be more active in their learning.
The STEM initiative, which started in 2013, is focused on encouraging students from elementary to high school to participate in STEM classes, Ripley said. It is also aimed at getting elementary, middle and high schools to work together to develop a complementary STEM curriculum spanning across all grade levels, Ripley said.
Mark Hendricks – a retired Marine Corps. officer who has taught Naval Science at West Mesa for 17 years and helped organize the Westside STEM Day – said he began incorporating STEM and project-based learning concepts into his classes within three years of becoming a teacher.
Early in his teaching career, Hendricks could see students needed assignments they could see and touch,
and actively participate in to learn, he said.
“It was obvious to me that lecture was an ineffective mode of instruction. I’m more of a fan of experimental instruction,” Hendricks said, adding there are plenty of math and science lessons that can be built into a rocket or hot air balloon launch.
Events like the Westside STEM Day are great for showcasing to students, teachers and the public what the benefits of a STEM curriculum are, Hendricks said.
In terms of the big picture, Ripley believes that a focus on STEM will help schools improve students academics and better prepare them for their futures beyond high school, she said.
The following schools participated in the Westside STEM Day: West Mesa, Valley High and Sandia high schools; John Adams, Jimmy Carter and Ernie Pyle middle schools; and Carlos Rey, Barcelona, Chaparral and Painted Sky elementary schools.