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Army STEM van visits Macdonald Intermediate School

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By JERRY MERIDETH
Accessions Support Brigade Public Affairs
More than 200 Macdonald Intermediate School students tested their skills in science, technology, engineering and math on the high tech display monitors of the Army STEM Van, Jan. 11.
The rolling exhibit’s visit injected a futuristic twist to coursework at Macdonald Intermediate, a STEM Pilot School for the Department of Defense Elementary and Secondary Schools.
The Army STEM Van features a fictional scenario where participants watch news coverage of a terrorist attack, join an Army team to discuss options to avert a disaster, then select and launch cutting edge solutions to solve the crisis. The scenario is set in the year 2032.
The Army STEM Van visited the Fort Knox school under a partnership with U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade. The van is part of the brigade’s Mission Support Battalion. The U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade sponsors Macdonald Intermediate School under an Army-wide program where Soldiers support school events and serve as mentors for students.
 “Whenever we need support we reach out to our partner,” said Macdonald School Principal Dr. Youlanda Washington. “Our partnership with the Accessions Support Brigade has been viable and vital.”
The U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade has been happy to lend a hand. In December, Soldiers volunteered to read to students on Pajama Day at the school. Other efforts have included support for a 5K Run and Walk. Last year, brigade Soldiers helped stage a barbeque during Macdonald’s field day for students.
“Soldiers serve as role models for leadership and ethics—both characteristics tied to the seven Army core values. The fact that Soldiers are willing to reach out to the children of other Soldiers adds a special facet to the relationship,” said Dr. Washington.
“Soldiers mentor students on classroom subjects. There’s a common bond. Their parents are Soldiers too. They are there to talk to the students when their moms or dads are deployed. It’s especially great to see one of the Soldiers walk in to have lunch with the students. It brings a smile to their faces,” she added.
Students standing in line for a tour of the STEM van recognized a regular school volunteer right away. Col. Mark Rado, U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade Commander, helped Macdonald by reading to a class in December. That was Pajama Day and his PJs were a hit with the students.
Rado chatted with his young fans and explained that the partnership program provides a way for Soldiers to volunteer in their communities.
“The van showcases the Army’s focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Rado said. “In addition, it’s great to work with children and share knowledge even if it’s as simple as reading book to a class. Education is a very important part of being a Soldier and STEM will shape the Army’s future.”
Macdonald Intermediate School recently won an educational grant to bring robotics into its classrooms. Students rotate through a school technology lab every two weeks. Additionally, three classroom teachers have earned grants to enhance students’ study of STEM. In 2012, Macdonald students earned top marks in regional robotics competitions.
Students also participate in the Army’s eCyber initiative. The Army eCYBERMISSION is a web-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics competition free for students in grades six through nine where teams can compete for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community.
“Our teachers have taken the STEM concept and integrated it throughout our curriculum,” Dr. Washington said. “STEM is different from class work 10 years ago. You have to use problem-solving and critical thinking skills. With our robotics program, students take a design and apply it using critical thinking. In dealing with a design they solve problems. We teach students that there are designs that are ideal and there are also designs for applications that haven’t been imagined yet.”
Benjamin Nix, a 6th grade student, explained that STEM is exciting—especially when you add robotics to the equation of classroom study.
“We’re building a submersible,” he said. “It’s actually fun.”
It’s a different and highly competitive world for students and teachers alike, according to Dr. Washington. Gone are the chalkboards and assignments where students practiced science experiments with expected results.
Now it’s a virtual world where students learn the language that makes a robot run across the floor and pick up a pencil. Teacher Bernard Orr is one of Macdonald’s pioneers in STEM curriculum. He’s a veteran of the micro world where small scale robots composed of miniature building blocks and gyros are limited in capability only by a child’s imagination.
“They do problem-solving that requires a lot of skill in math and science. They have to write down what they want to do,” Orr said. “There’s a lot of reading and research. We focus on the team aspect. Each member of the team participates in the eCyber program. We are trying to give them a taste of what engineers do. STEM and engineering can be tied to every part of life.”
Upcoming on the school calendar—April 26—is the Macdonald STEMposium where students will showcase their science, technology, engineering and math skills. The Army STEM Van will return for the event. And students, parents and teachers will close out the year with a visit to the U.S. Space and Robotics Center in Huntsville, Ala.
U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade is aligned under the Army Marketing and Research Group, a field operating agency of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.