STEM learning just doesn’t get any more engaging than standing in front of an F-16 fighter jet, poised for action at any moment.
“You are going to see some top secret classified things in here. No pictures,” the all-business Vermont Air National Guard sergeant told Fletcher Elementary School fifth-graders earlier this month. We’re not allowed to use the soldier’s name in our blog, but as he guided students through the Burlington-based National Guard hanger, the intricacies of jet technology that he shared most definitely had students on a flight plan for loving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Students were on the base as part of a five-day program called Starbase. An affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Starbase Vermont educational program is located on the Air National Guard base in South Burlington and focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and math, with a focus on possible careers in those fields. Students spend 25 hours in the Starbase facility and the instructors also teach lessons at the school.
It was Amelia Earhart herself who once said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” In many ways, this has become the teaching mantra at Starbase Vermont, where the lessons are hands-on and include everything from exploring an F16 jet in the hanger and flying planes using flight simulators, to studying gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.
But, the program teaches much more than science. Its mission includes fostering collaboration and healthy choices, exposing children to cutting-edge technology and building a sense of community. Each “Starbaser,” as they are called, selects a “call sign” like a pilot. The call sign represents them personally and they are referred to by that name throughout the Starbase experience.
Starbase opened its doors in 1994 and reaches more than 1,300 Vermont students annually. There is no fee for schools to participate. During the program’s physics component, students learn Newton’s Laws of Motion through hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Other topics include fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, much of which is learned through experiments and observations of military planes that enter and exit the base on which Starbase is housed. Exploring the base hanger, which housed two F16s, was a highlight for students this year.