To members of the United States Marine Corps, polymers save lives, and to the 95th Civil Engineering Division, polymers are recyclables. To students at Branch Elementary School, polymers inspire future scientists and engineers.
For two days, May 8-9, more than 900 Branch Elementary School students attended the fourth annual Branch Science Carnival and had the opportunity to learn about polymers and chemistry in the real world from leading experts found right here at Edwards.
“This year and every year, we want to inspire students in science and engineering. This year, the focus was on better living through chemistry, but also using less plastics and using polymers wisely,” said Alexia Svejda, Parent Teacher Organization president and event co-organizer. “This event is how we inspire future scientists to do incredible things with polymers.”
Megan Tucker, Air Force spouse, worked with Svejda to organize this year’s event and will assume primary responsibility for the 2013 Branch Science Carnival.
Svejda and Tucker worked with experts throughout the Edwards community to bring the fieldtrips directly to the students, rather than bussing students to them. As a result, the science carnival minimized costs while maximizing learning opportunities for the students.
Throughout the event students in kindergarten through sixth-grade participated in various activities designed to teach them about polymers. Students built gliders with NASA; learned about recycling from the 95th CE; made slime with Air Force Research Laboratory Detachment 7; toured a helicopter with the Marines and crafted hoopster aircraft with Mickey Bowen, Air Force Flight Test Center community outreach engineer.
“This event is important because it gives me the chance to continually build a relationship with the students. I get the chance to show and present a real world application of the subjects students learn in the classroom,” said Bowen. “It’s important to give students the opportunity to talk with engineers and science professionals.”
As the students cycled through the various presentations, one in particular seemed to especially grab their attention – the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter on display in the middle of a softball field. Lt. Col. Darrell W. Platz, Marine Aircraft Group 41, Det. A commanding officer, and his flight crew, weathered the heat and took time to talk with students about the important role of polymers.
Students learned about the helicopter’s rotor blades made of polymer composites and even had the chance to get up close to a cut-out of one. They also learned about polymers and their role with wiring and a special coating on the aircraft. Additionally, students had the opportunity to tour the helicopter, view the cockpit, and try on helmets and Kevlar survival kit vests.
“We don’t participate in events like this very often, but it’s definitely important. I think it’s important for the students to see service members in action and enjoying what they do,” said Platz. “Hopefully it motivates and inspires them to get involved in the sciences or serve their country, even if it’s just for a couple of years.”
In addition to learning about how polymers improve life, students received a presentation from Thomas Allen, who is the alternate program manager for the base’s landfill program with 95th CE, about the importance of recycling.
“I had a blast,” said Allen. “I believe every learning event is important to kids, even if they don’t know it yet.”
By the end of each presentation, Allen ensured that every student learned where plastics come from and why it’s important to recycle. Most importantly, he made sure the students enjoyed learning and made a pledge with them to recycle whenever they can.
“The focus of this year’s event was better living through chemistry, but let’s recycle and use it wisely,” said Svejda. “Every one of the presentations taught students about polymers to the standards teachers teach to. If all the students walk away with is that they can now recognize polymers around them, then this event was a total success, even though they’re walking away with so much more.”
Recognizing the importance of the Branch Science Carnival, sixth-grade teacher, Kim Cantrell was pleased with the outcome of this year’s event and its positive impact on students.
“What makes this event great is that it’s hands-on science, engineering and problem solving. It’s wonderful,” said Cantrell. “We are in the land of plenty on this base when it comes to science and engineering. It’s a great and unique quality. I’m glad to see the students have access to these resources.”
Cantrell and other teachers will continue expanding upon the science and engineering lessons learned at the carnival in the classroom. For example, teacher bags with hoopster aircraft instructions and additional polymer hands-on activities were handed out by Bowen at the end of his presentations, in hopes that teachers would continue the lesson where he left off.
As for Cantrell’s sixth-grade class, they are currently building a rocket in class in preparation for competing in the 8th Annual Mojave Space Challenge, scheduled to take place May 22. It is the school’s first year participating in the competition.
Erica Thomas is one of Cantrell’s students participating in the competition and is one of five students building the rocket. Aspiring to one day work as an engineer, she is grateful for the people who took the time to teach Branch Elementary School students about science and engineering.
“I really like math because it’s challenging, you can learn something new every day with it. I’d like to be a chemical or industrial engineer, so I’m thankful for everyone taking the time to teach us because it inspired me to keep going,” said Thomas. “It shows that you can really do anything, so go for your dreams.”