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ON TRACK: NASA expert visits PCES students for STEM Day

At first, the challenge seemed rather simple. Build a marble run roller coaster with start and end hills, an additional hill, a loop and a gap. Then, came the constraints – use no tape and the marble cannot leave the track except for the gap.

Wheels began to turn and ideas formed at STEM Day at Pike County Elementary School Wednesday.

Thirty-two pre-service students from the Troy University College of Education brought the knowledge they gained from John Weis, NASA Education Professional Development Specialist at Texas State University, and put it into practice with the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade student at PCES.

Cathy Lott, PCES instructional reading coach, said the students were excited about the opportunity to learn from the university students and would benefit greatly from the expert training they received from Weis, who is development specialist with the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math all came into play with the building of the marble run roller coaster, Lott said. “The students were challenged with designing and testing different speeds of falling objects due to gravity. Then, they constructed an explanation from the evidence to illustrate gravitational force.”

Calvin Mulkey, fifth-grade teacher, said STEM Day was a great opportunity for the students to learn from a real-world kind of experience.

“The students know about roller coasters but they don’t know how they work,” he said. “This hands-on experience got them thinking. Once the marble makes it down the track, they found ways to make it go slower and then faster.”

The fifth-graders quickly realized that it took everyone in their groups to accomplish the marble’s mission.

“Students don’t generally get to work together but to get the marble from the beginning to the end of the ‘track,’ they have to work together,” Weis said. “Learning the value of teamwork is an important lesson.”

Weis said hands-on opportunities are outstanding ways for students to learn.

“Hands-on learning is all about exploration,” he said. “It’s learning without a number being assigned to it. It’s fun and it’s learning at its best.”

And, it was a tremendous learning experience for the university students, as well. Kyleta Ball said the training she received from Weis was invaluable.

“It was fun working with the students and watching them test their ideas and seeing them be successful was a good experience for me,” she said.

PCES Principal Tracy Arnold expressed appreciation to Weis and the Troy University students for choosing PCES as the site for STEM Day.

“We are always looking for different ways of learning for our students and today was a good day for fun and learning,” she said.