Spending one day a week manning a mission to Mars, launching rockets, making their own drone and visiting with different branches of the military made this semester special for 30 fifth graders at ResponsiveEd’s new Fallbrook Academy in Houston.

Selected to take part in the Department of Defense’s STARBASE program, all of the fifth graders at Fallbrook Academy have the opportunity to experience Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in a hands-on way.

Campus director Demetris White said she believes it was a life-changing experience for many of the students.

“This was a wonderful experience for our students. It really got them excited about school and helped them see the relevance of what they are learning in class to possible careers. I remember one boy was so excited he came to the campus at 6:30 in the morning even though he didn’t have to be here until 7:30,” said Ms. White.

The STARBASE program was first launched in 1993 as a partnership between branches of the military and schools with a high at-risk population to explore careers in the STEM field. Once a week for five weeks students worked together applying the math and science they have learned to real world situations.

Assistant campus director Midhat Ali who coordinated the program for Fallbrook Academy said STARBASE increased students’ interest in science and math.

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Students hard at work.

“This program really helped science and math come alive for students. It motivated them to use what they had studied in the classroom. It also helped take the intimidation out of
schoolwork because it wasn’t just about memorizing facts. Instead they used what they were learning in a tangible way,” said Ms. Ali.

Through the program, the students are introduced to 3D printers, geocaching and computer-aided design (CAD) software, the coast guard initiatives, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and F16s. The students experienced science and math beyond classroom limitations. While having fun, the students were also preparing for state testing through STARBASE’s Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) aligned program.

Students also had to work on their teamwork skills. At the beginning of the program students were split into groups: Alpha, Beta, Charlie, and Delta. In each of their labs, the students worked together within their group to complete their responsibilities within the mission.

One day students took a mission to Mars aboard the SS Legacy. They had two mission goals: land on mars and complete their data gathering work on mars. Working in 11 different teams, the students had to coordinate their efforts for a successful mission.

The geology team took samples and assisted navigation, the biology team studied the reaction of earth life forms to the environment in space, the life support team made sure everyone had air to breathe, recycled water and power, the isolation team used robots to keep everyone aboard the ship safe from hazardous materials, the remote team piloted an aircraft on mars to collect samples, the probe team built a satellite to study the two moons of mars, the navigation piloted the ship through space, the medical team kept everyone healthy in space and studied the effects of spaceflight on the human body, the glovebox lab experimented on the samples collected from Mars looking for signs of life, and the communications and data team relayed information between the ship and mission control.

Hearing about how much fun the program was from their classmates who participated in the fall program, the other half of the fifth grade class is eagerly waiting for their chance this spring semester.

“The students absolutely loved STARBASE, and they were rather disappointed when the five weeks were over. The other fifth-graders who will participate in the spring semester program are very excited,” said Ms. Ali.

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