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USNA STEM Program Gets Students Excited About Science

Posted on: July 16, 2012 11:00 EDT by Lt. Teng K. Ooi and Capt. Linda J. Beltra

The United States Naval Academy’s 2013 Summer Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Program is designed to encourage 8th-11th graders to pursue a course of study in STEM-related subjects throughout high school, college, and beyond.

The aim is to integrate STEM-focused concepts across the curriculum and pave the way for students to succeed academically in mathematics and science.  

An effective and practical way to stimulate student interest in STEM is to show how mathematics and science are applied to create exciting technologies. 

This year’s Summer STEM theme was “Extreme Technology Annapolis Edition 2013.” The program  showcased the latest in technological advances in a wide variety of science and engineering topics to include energy and light, infrastructure, transportation, cybersecurity, environmental challenges, flight and fluids, automation, simulation and modeling, biometrics and robotics.

Students were able to participate in project-based modules using a hands-on, real-world approach to solving design and analysis problems in the Naval Academy’s world-class laboratory facilities. This unique learning environment promotes engineering “habits of mind” such as systems thinking, optimization, innovation, creativity, and team work.  It exposes students to a problem-based environment, outside the traditional classroom. 

The 2013 program featured modules which allowed students to build a robot; design, build and fly a rocket; explore ciphers, codes and cryptology; test for signs of bioterrorism attacks; use chemistry to develop new energy sources, among others.

One popular module was titled, “How Helicopters Fly, an Introduction to Rotor Aeromechanics.”  The technical objective in this module was to teach students about rotor aeromechanics of vertical lift aircraft.  

The students learned how to assemble and build a model rotor and test the operations of the rotor in vertical and forward autorotation. Then they optimized the rotor performance by experimenting with different rotor blade pitch settings. 

Finally, the helicopter module also featured a flight demonstration of a commercially built quadcopter drone, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0.  This remote-controlled flying robot can take off vertically, hover, fly in all directions, and land vertically on its own.  The demonstration helped to enhance the understanding of the rotor aeromechanics concepts, as well as the engineering technology and flight operations of the drone. 

“Our hope is that these application-oriented activities like building a rotor or flying a quadcopter drone will help students understand the power and beauty of mathematics and science, and spark a renewed interest in STEM courses in high school,” said visiting Professor Scott Davids, the creator of the rotary wing engineering STEM module. “A solid foundation in mathematics and science in high school will allow these students to pursue higher education and future careers in engineering and technology.  Explaining how a helicopter works is a fun and interesting way to do this.”
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