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Operation Patriotic STEM: Making Science Fun at Ft. Belvoir Elementary School

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Awesome! Wow! That’s so cool! As stomp rockets flew through the air, balloons expanded, and electricity set hair standing on end, children at Ft. Belvoir Elementary School didn’t know which hands-on science activity to try first.

They were participating in Operation Patriotic STEM, an evening of science activities organized by Marymount University. Dr. Usha Rajdev, Marymount associate professor of Education, has established a partnership with the Ft. Belvoir school to “give back to U.S. military families who sacrifice so much for us.”

For the evening’s activities, she brought in educational partners Rick Varner from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Elizabeth Burke from Project Learning Tree, and Tammy Maxey from Agriculture in the Classroom.

Marymount Master of Education candidates and undergraduates studying to become elementary school teachers were joined by students in Dr. Eric Bubar’s physical science course to staff the hands-on activities, which included creating lightning and static electricity with van de graaf generators; viewing Jupiter and the moon through a telescope; papermaking; stringing earth-bead bracelets; making and launching stomp rockets; learning about covalent bonds by using milk, food coloring and soap; playing a resource-matching game; making seed buddies that use body heat to help seeds germinate; and inflating balloons with baking soda and carbon dioxide.

Looking around at the children engaged in the various activities, Kara Fahy, STEM focus teacher at Ft. Belvoir Elementary School, noted, “I’m getting a lot of great feedback. The children love the stomp rockets. They are also seeing different ways to use recyclable materials. And they’re asking questions like “Why are the fins of the rocket like that?”  

Seeing cause and effect first hand is key to learning. Brigette Maynard, who got her M.Ed. at Marymount after retiring from the Navy, teaches third grade at Ft. Belvoir. She pointed out, “These kids love hands-on stuff. One of my students wants to be an astronaut. He couldn’t wait to show me the rockets.”

Fahy added, “It’s wonderful that Marymount has collaborated with these different organizations for the kids. Looking ahead, she says, “I will stay in touch with Project Learning Tree and Agriculture in the Classroom. We’re planning a native garden, and they’re great resources.”

For the Marymount students, it was all about the kids. Brittany Watson, an M.Ed. candidate, said, “This was my first time teaching a hands-on activity. “The children were so into everything. I wasn’t expecting them to be so excited.”

Next year, the partnership with Ft. Belvoir will expand. Undergraduates in the Teaching Mathematics and Science course will spend Wednesdays at Ft. Belvoir. In the mornings, they will learn a hands-on math lesson, then immediately teach it to a class at the school. In the afternoon, they will do the same with a science lesson.

Getting children excited about math and science with hands-on activities will encourage them to continue with STEM-related studies as they progress through school and into college.
PHOTO 1 - Brian Powell, an M.Ed. in elementary education candidate, and Jacquelyn Castillo '14, a multidisciplinary studies major with PK-6 teaching licensure, run the stomp rocket activity.
PHOTO 2 - Nowel Danfora '14, who is studying to become an elementary school teacher, enjoys the wonder on children's faces as they watch balloons inflate when baking soda and carbon dioxide combine.
PHOTO 3 - Teaching the art of making paper rockets - left to right: Nicholas Tavenner (left), an M.Ed. in special education candidate; Edwin Hernandez '14, a BBA major in Dr. Bubar's physical science course; NASA's Rick Varner; and Rhonda Hotop, M.Ed. candidate and student teacher at Ft. Belvoir Elementary School
PHOTO 4 - Papermaking is a popular station, run here by Marion Schubert (seated center, left), an M.Ed. in elementary education candidate, and Ruchi Sethi (bottom left), who is getting her M.Ed. in secondary education. Dr. Usha Rajdev observes from center back.
PHOTO 5 - Static electricity can be a hair-raising affair at Dr. Eric Bubar's station.