DOD-funded education program introduced at Tinker three 5th grade Tinker Elementary classes benefit

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Trays of supplies were placed in the middle of each of the five tables. Twenty-five fifth graders from Tinker Elementary sat at the tables in a Tinker Youth Center classroom eyeing the beaker cups filled with water, Dixie cups filled with sand and tongue depressors. With pencils in hand and open workbooks in front of them, some students wrote in their workbooks, while others hesitantly took hold of the supplies. A few students, with their chins resting on the backside of their hands, stared at their classmates claiming ownership of the supplies. Within moments heads perked up and "oohs" and "ahs," escaped from their mouths followed by surprised "that's cool" and "wow" comments.

The class is one of three, or of 75 total children, participating in the pilot Department of Defense STARBASE Oklahoma-Tinker program. The DOD-funded educational youth program focuses on teaching fifth graders - known in the program as cadets - science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, through hands-on experiments and tutorials in hopes that an interest will be sparked and the kids will seek out STEM-based careers. The Tinker five-class program began April 20 and concludes May 17 with a career fair that allows the students to interact with the professionals working in the STEM field. Career fair participants will include representatives from off-base federal agencies and on-base units such as the 552nd Air Control Wing and 507th Air Refueling Wing.

"You are America, the future, and that's why you're here," said Col. Kelly Cobble, Oklahoma Air National Guard director of Staff and DOD STARBASE Oklahoma program manager. "We need you to learn this and get excited about this and press on in high school and in college and be good professionals later in life so you can keep this country rolling."

Implemented in 1993, DOD STARBASE Oklahoma targets students in at-risk locations or elementary schools that receive Title I funding. In the course of the 25 hours of classroom instruction, STARBASE cadets are introduced to physics, chemistry, engineering, technology, geometry, data analysis, rocketry, computer-assisted design, or CAD, and measurement.

With instruction are experiments such as building rockets, using a CAD program and three-dimensional printer to create a lab module that would attach to the International Space Station, and building a restraint system.

"In everything we do, we guide the students to ask questions and arrive at the answers on their own. It's an inquiry-based setting," said Pam Kirk, DOD STARBASE Oklahoma director. "Through the program there's a motivational and attitude change, an 'I can do science and I can do math' spark. We strive to help students feel like they can be successful in STEM and that STEM areas are interesting, creative and fun."

Alexandra Garcia and Ke'Shawn Maxwell, both 11 years-old, are two students from Cindy Yarnell's class participating in the program.

"I think it's very fun; I like it," Alexandra said. "I like it because we get to do a lot of projects and get to learn new things. So, whenever we go to sixth grade, we'll be like, 'we know this' and we'll be advanced."

Ke'Shawn agreed.

"I think this program will help us become smarter and we'll have better jobs," said Ke'Shawn, who wants to be a professional basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but would consider teaching science on the side. "My mom always says I'm a nerd."

On that particular day, May 1, the STARBASE cadets learned about nanotechnology, various units of measurements and physical properties. They used their new vocabulary to test and examine two different types of sand and determine which was hydrophilic and hydrophobic.