SHREVEPORT, La. -- Through the sound of children’s chatter and laughter, a fifth-grade science lesson on Isaac Newton’s laws of motion is set to begin. But for this lesson, the students became the teachers sharing what they learned from STARBASE.
STARBASE, a Department of Defense-wide youth program with an affiliate located on Barksdale Air Force Base, sponsored by the 307th Bomb Wing, focuses on engaging elementary students to explore and learn topics in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, known academically as STEM.
Susan Murrell, Southfield School language arts and social studies teacher, applied to take advantage of the local program for Southfield’s fifth-grade class.
“STARBASE has increased the knowledge of every child in this class and these children want more,” Murrell said. “It peaked the student’s curiosity and increased their confidence.”
Murrell, along with her colleague Deborah Kiel, Southfield’s middle school science teacher, worked together to collaborate and prepare 28 fifth-grade students to teach a STEM lesson as part of STARBASE’s school-based service learning project. For their project, the fifth-graders taught the first-grade class the importance of seat belt safety using science and engineering concepts with items readily available in the classroom.
“We have a little buddy system at Southfield and we wanted to show the younger children the importance of what our children learned, so it was a collaborative effort,” Murrell said.
Equipped with rubber bands, ping pong balls and toy cars, the students began their lesson. The rubber band, used to represent a seat belt, would be placed around the ball and the toy car before being launched into a wooden block. If secured properly, the ball would remain in its seat and be safe, but if the ball were to break loose from its restraint, it would conceptualize Newton’s principle that “an object in motion stays in motion.”
The students tried various techniques using the rubber bands to determine which was the most effective at keeping the ball in place. In some cases, the balls would pop out and bounce away, but excitement filled the room when the children were able to prevent their ball from breaking away. This is just one example of how the principles of what the children learned at STARBASE apply beyond the classroom.
“Students are able to apply knowledge and skills gained at STARBASE in a practical and personal way, allowing them to make connections with STEM content and real-world applications,” said Kathy Brandon, STARBASE Louisiana executive director. “It also teaches students the importance of giving back to their community.”
According to Brandon, 2,500 fifth-graders participated in the local STARBASE program in the past year, many of them military dependents due to the connection between Barksdale families and the local Bossier City-Shreveport community. The military footprint grows wider within STARBASE as service members are crucial to the program as volunteers.
“Students understand the contributions the men and women in our armed services are making, not only to our national security but also to our nation's productivity and competitive edge,” Brandon said.
Brandon added that there are many ways military and civilian volunteers can participate which includes:
- Serving as career guest speakers on-base
- Hosting fifth-grade class tours to STEM-focused facilities and units on base
- Serving as mentors to small groups of middle and high school students as part of STARBASE’s 2.0 afterschool program
- Serving as engineering project judges or rocketry officials during year-end competitions
Southfield’s students are merely one example of how the program benefits children by introducing them to STEM-based learning at an early age. For Southfield’s first-graders, it was more than just playing toy cars with their older peers.
“The fifth-graders did a phenomenal job bringing STEM to a young child’s level of understanding and problem-solving with their follow up service project from STARBASE,” said Shannon Golden-Martinez, Southfield School first-grade teacher. “The first-graders not only discovered how STEM fits into our everyday lives, but how it can save lives.”
Public schools interested in participating in STARBASE Louisiana can reach out to their district science coordinators for further information. Private schools interested in the program and volunteers can submit inquiries by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.