Students think outside box at STEMposium

Sigonella Middle High School student Eliza Moore discusses a disaster response scenario with a teammate during the Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe STEMposium Dec. 2 in Wiesbaden.

After a coronal mass ejection, which delivered a heavy dose of radiation from the sun and left much of northern Europe without electricity, dozens of future engineers, scientists and mathematicians put their heads together to develop a disaster recovery plan in a scenario that would test their skills and give them a unique hands-on learning experience.

High school students from across the Department of Defense Education Activity Europe gathered for the annual STEMposium Dec. 2 through 6 at the DJH Jugendherberge Wiesbaden.

The goal of the STEMposium was to engage students who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math-related careers so they may better pursue opportunities in STEM education, according to organizers.

Students were placed in one of seven categories: Robotics engineering, computer simulations, power engineering, environmental engineering, biotech engineering, disaster response engineering or a video team that documented the event and streamed videos on social media.

During the event, students learn from each other and do their own research to find solutions to problems, said Marsha McCauley, STEMposium project officer, who is a science teacher at Sigonella High School in Sicily, Italy.

“The idea is it’s not a lecture, so students have their computers out and can look things up and participate in a discussion,” she said.

Sigonella Middle High School student Eliza Moore was pleasantly surprised by this structure.

“I didn’t know if environmental would be something I’d be interested in; I thought we were just going to sit there and they were going to lecture and we were just going to take notes, but they’re actually having us do labs and hands-on stuff, which is really exciting because I didn’t know what to expect and this is much better than I was anticipating,” she said.

About half of the students in the robotics engineering group had experience in robotics, said Noel Ramos, mentor and robotics engineering teacher at Rota High School in Rota, Spain. So he paired them up with inexperienced students to build a remote controlled rover with an infrared sensor to detect radiation. The robot would also be able to deliver supplies and rescue people.

He said the kids in the group who had never done robotics before picked up on it fairly quickly.

“Everybody’s been really helpful,” he said of how the students were working together in the group. “There’s nice citizenship happening here.”

Students in the power engineering group learned how to create aluminum air batteries, other batteries out of dirt, working windmills and other simple ways to create power.

The biotech engineering group discussed using DNA to identify deceased victims of a train accident in the scenario.

The computer simulations group used Python programming language to analyze data and detect patterns in people affected by radiation.

Environmental engineers conducted soil, water and air testing to identify problems before coming up with solutions.

Each team had access to a maker lab, which included 3D printers, hot glue guns, woodworking tools and duct tape.

Moore said she appreciated the opportunity to meet other kids with different backgrounds and experiences.

“I like that they put us around kids from different schools,” she said. “It gives us a great opportunity to meet people. My teammates are from all over Europe, and I’m getting to talk to them and learn what kind of ideas they have.”

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