Students Practice STEM Skills as Crime Scene Investigators

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Story Number: NNS140729-03Release Date: 7/29/2014 11:35:00 AM

By Dan Broadstreet, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division Corporate Communications Public Affairs

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (NNS) -- Navy scientists and engineers partnered with Florida State University Panama City (FSU PC) STEM Institute July 14-25 to teach rising eighth, ninth and tenth graders how to conduct simulated crime scene investigations (CSI) using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

The director of FSU PC STEM Institute, Ginger Littleton, said this summer's science camp was designed to challenge students to investigate hypothetical crime-scenes after having first participated in four basic CSI-related workshops: chemistry, robotics, electronics and computer programming.

"So, for example, we have Navy physicist Dan Flisek from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division presenting chemistry methods to students so they can figure out whether or not particular evidence samples are actual blood stains or not," said Littleton. "And the programmers are learning HTML and other computer languages to build their own profiles."

Littleton said that the FSU PC STEM summer institute started nine years ago and is funded by the National Defense Education Program (NDEP).

"NDEP helped us begin what grew to be an annual STEM summer science camp for our Bay District School students and gradually attracted students from neighboring districts such as Washington, Columbia and Hamilton counties. Our annual average of participating students grew to approximately two-hundred children," said Littleton.

According to Littleton, due to the country's economic challenges, NDEP had to cut this year's funding.

"Consequently, we had to begin charging a registration fee of fifty dollars per student to augment what funding we did receive from NDEP this year to provide the same academic challenges," Littleton said. "The result is we've had to reduce the number of students we could host. So this year we are serving about one-hundred-twenty students compared to the usual two-hundred participants. Previously we were reaching a wider range of students so the cutback has resulted in our losing some of the diversity we always seek."

Surfside Middle School math teacher Eddie Mills began teaching students the basics of electronics and then how to solder circuit boards before challenging them to use these skills like CSI professionals.

"Our class scenario involves a jewelry store employee who participates in a burglary," said Mills. "So, by having our students first build a basic alarm with their soldering iron and a circuit board kit, they will have to figure out not only how to build the alarm, but how to bypass it before they'll be able to present a case against the suspect."

Rising eighth graders Dakota Wonsey and Winston Walsingham took on the challenge of building and programming a Lego Mindstorm® robot to act as an anti-theft surveillance sentry.

"Before attending this summer science camp, I had never built a robot and I never had any experience in programming either," said Wonsey. "Learning by books alone and lectures is boring. Here, we actually get to do the things we read about."

Fellow robotics classmate Wesley Wilmot echoed Wonsey's sentiments about how effective the STEM Institute teaching methods were.

"I have gotten more science experience in this summer science camp than I have through all my years of taking traditional science courses in school. Like a lot of my team, this has all been completely new to me and I've had a lot of fun in the process," said Wilmot.

According to Waller Elementary STEM science teacher Carla Thedford, the hands-on method of teaching students STEM skills is so inspirational and effective that her school principal Peggy Bunch is incorporating it throughout Waller Elementary's entire curriculum.

"We're really trying to take it to a broad-based plan where every classroom will be doing some type of STEM related activity through our lessons," said Thedford. "It's really exciting to be a part of the FSU STEM Summer Institute because this program is helping our school systems to evolve. This particular evolution in teaching is engaging more of our students' interests in learning STEM skills, which is what our country needs."

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