Despite COVID-19, students’ thirst for learning continues

In the midst of COVID19, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Far East District employees hosts an on-line Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities with Humphreys Central Elementary School, May 29.
In the midst of COVID19, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Far East District employees hosts an on-line Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities with Humphreys Central Elementary School, May 29.

Despite COVID-19, students’ thirst for learning continues

by SeukHwan Son
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Far East District

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea - ‘Here is my hovercraft!” – Annabeth F. 2nd Grade

“My Bridge could take 18 rocks before my basket was too full” – Alice A. 4th grade

“Our 2nd grader and 4th grader watched every video lesson the engineers posted then picked their activities to submit! The quality of the videos and sense of humor used in the presentations were two things we all loved!” –Christine Arzt-McGee, HCES Parent

For the very first time in a complete digital e-learning platform, students from kindergarten through 4th grades of Humphreys Central Elementary School (HCES) posted and shared videos of their experiments and exchanged live questions and answers with members of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Far East District (FED) and 11th Engineer Battalion on their various Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) activities, May 29.

In years past, FED has done a hands-on event during the school day where every student rotates through a station designed by our FED team focused on different disciplines and aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, sometimes hosting over 500 students in one day.

“The social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 prevented us from rolling out the hands-on experiments and the distance learning at the schools made this a very unique year, after some brainstorming and creative thinking with Mr. Rick Taylor from HCES, I approached our District Commander and Deputy District Engineer with the idea to do something with videos and hosting on an e-learning platform. COL Crary and Mr. Byrd saw that our community on Camp Humphreys needed a break from some of the telework/e-learning stress and saw an opportunity for the Far East District to give some joy to the students, while also helping out the teachers and parents by providing this activity,” said Jennifer Moore, Chief of the Air Force Program and STEM Facilitator for FED.

The team of 25 volunteers from FED and 11th Engineer Battalion were comprised of professionals in various disciplines including: engineering, science and biology, logistics, architecture, and computer technology. The team gathered quickly and created eight pre-recorded video clips, focusing on various scientific activities: Structural survivability (Egg Drop), speed and vibration of sound (Making Music with Water), structural engineering (design and construct a bridge with popsicle sticks), biology (Amphibians of South Korea), air cushion and volume (Hovercraft), computer programming, soil engineering and particle settlement, architecture and design (Design your dream house!).

“We have worked in partnership with USACE for a number of years. Those events have always been in the spring and hands-on at the school with the students participating and engineers setting up stations. About a month and a half ago, Ms. Moore and I started having our annual discussion about what we can do this year, especially with students out of school. We talked about having some virtual activities and Ms. Moore was able to get lots of FED volunteers to participate and create these amazing videos for the kids. We hoped the kids would be able to do these activities at home and then provide some documentation of their participation through videos and pictures that the engineers and volunteers could view on the website,” added Mr. Rick Taylor, Humphreys Central Elementary School STEM coordinator.

Jennifer Moore brought the event full circle by holding a live question and answer session through the Google Meet platform with students and teachers, engaging in discussions with the students and giving them a chance to “ask an engineer” anything about their experiment, allowing FED STEM Team volunteers a chance to give feedback to the students and words of encouragement about their scientific mind, their creative ideas, and prompts for what to try in the future.

Over 50 video clips and photos were posted by the students and shared at https://padlet.com/richard_taylor8/h07v06s936fpiiaf. These included the students’ creative approaches to the experiments. Responses ranged from a student turning a Popsicle Stick Bridge into a ramp for a toy car, another student load tested their bridge with what was sure to be every piece of silverware from the kitchen, another made a mock YouTube channel called “Kid’s Zone! Science!” with her self-built hovercraft, we saw designs for a “dream home” that included floor plans designs with Legos and Minecraft, chocolate swimming pools, coffee showers, and new features in architecture such as a “Change seasons Room” that could create Christmas in July with a touch of a button.

“Each of our volunteers engaged so thoughtfully and kindly with the students. They took time out of their busy days, evenings, and weekends to review the student submissions so when the students started logging into the digital platform, they were ready to ask them questions,” said Moore.

Chad McLeod, Chief of Construction, and his dream house design team really took this to the next level. They would ask why certain rooms were designed how they were, what it meant to the student, and complimented them on the engineering and eye for architecture.

“We couldn’t have done the live question and answer event without people like Chad McLeod, Mario Fuquene, Todd Hill, Dave Chai, and CPT Bill Saeur. When they interacted with the students and told them they had a scientific mind or have a future in STEM and showed that they listened and watched the ideas they came up with, the kids smiled ear to ear and I feel like it really made such a positive impact on them. My favorite moment was when one 2nd grade student walked us through her dream house and told us about the hot chocolate swimming pool and the bottomless pit to get rid of the trash. It was so much fun hearing our FED Engineers ask serious questions about if the hot chocolate was potable and complimenting her on accounting for waste disposal,” said Moore.

The FED volunteers answered the call for creativity this year, with every station coming up with a unique way to show STEM initiatives while also being mindful to use items from around the house and provide easy to follow instructions. Aaron Schuff, Resident Engineer, and member of the dream house design took the time to write each student a letter as if it was from a customer, recommending suggestions and showing the students commonly asked questions that engineers may receive when designing a building.

The event left amazing memories to not only the students but also the volunteers.

“I thought this is very endearing especially in the circumstances with COVID we were able to come together and create a virtual STEM project and the kids were very interested in designs and projects they were doing. We are very proud that they were able to participate and do such an awesome job for their little minds being kindergarten through 4th grade. [They are a] very creative and very intelligent group of students. Thank you to teachers, students, and parents that helped and supported this great project and we look forward to doing this again next year,” said Lindor.

The event also included prizes to the most creative and well-done student experiments. These prizes were provided by the individual volunteers and team leaders as a personal commitment to the program and a way to inspire the students and get them more excited to try their best at all of the experiments.

“There was a lot of participation on the website. When students did the experiments and got the feedback from engineers, I think it went fantastic. I know that the kids really appreciated hearing about their projects and being encouraged to pursue careers interested in STEM in the future. I think it went great!” said Taylor.

Col. Christopher Crary, FED commander said he was encouraged by the fact that FED employees were able to continue the tradition of STEM outreach to the Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Korea.

“This is a highlight for the kids every single year, but this is also a highlight for the workforce. These events take a lot of energy and a lot of passion and my staff looks forward to this. When COVID hit, schools closed, and we questioned whether we would be able to do it but, this is important for our workforce as a way to give back to the community and our volunteers came together to find new ways to share our STEM expertise,” said Crary.

Crary further thanked the school, “I appreciate all the volunteers for their ability to find engineering solutions to difficult problems and making this process work. Also, I am sure that there was a lot of coordination on school’s end to set this up and put the kids all in the virtual environment to make this happen. Thank you and thank your team and I have no doubt that it was a benefit to the kids.”

Richard T. Byrd, Deputy District Engineer, noted he was appreciative of all the hard work done by FED employees to make the event possible.

“I appreciate the FED team for volunteering. It is amazing the amount of effort that went into it, to include our 11th Engineer guys. The kids had a fantastic time and it’s going to pay a big dividend and helps us build future leaders.”

Taylor said he is already looking forward to the event next year.

“FED and Ms. Moore have done a fantastic job over the past five years that I’ve personally worked with them, I hope we can continue our partnership and maybe next year get back to the hands-on activities. It is really valuable for the students to get this interaction and to be able to participate in these activities” said Taylor.

This successful event can best be summarized by one impressed parent, “[Our kids] loved that the engineers took time to engage with every grade level and talk to them about their submissions. It was motivating and heartwarming for them as budding scientists and as parents we loved their level of interest and we so appreciated the heart and joy that went into the week from the Far East District. Thank you so much,” said Christine Arzt-McGee, parent of two HCES student participants.

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