13-year-old Atalia watched as her groupmates Kaziah and Myricam controlled precise movements of a small spherical robot using an app on their cellphones. They had programmed the tiny robot to make certain turns, starts and stops in just a few short minutes. Amazed by her group's progress, she leaped up and shouted, "Let's try the maze."
Now that the girls had mastered simple movements of the robot, they moved to the next task at hand, which was programming the robot to navigate its way through a maze. The task was far from straightforward. The students had to meticulously measure each turn in the maze, starting over several times to ensure their measurements were correct.
These students and over 200 more participated in Kendrick Middle School Math and Science Day at Clayton State University on Oct 13.
The annual event aims to encourage STEM interests among young students, as well as expose them to a college environment in hopes they will be encouraged to attend. The day is filled with several fun STEM activities developed and conducted by Clayton State math and science professors to show them how the concepts they learn in their math and science classes can transcend into their everyday lives.
This year's activities included using algorithms to solve a Rubik's cube or program a robot to conquer a maze, exploring the anatomy of fetal pigs and rats, observing the life cycle of aquatic insects, and using basic DNA fingerprinting strategies to discover who committed a crime. The day concluded with lunch at the University's cafeteria and a tour of the campus.
The program was orchestrated five years ago by the math and science department at Clayton State and Kendrick Middle School when it was learned that students began to lose interest in math and science during middle school years.
"Because math and science is so heavily evaluated on standardized tests, students feel like it's something they have to do," said Tiona Gray, Kendrick Middle School teacher and Clayton State alumnus. "They don't see any fun in learning it. This shows them that they can use math and science to have fun."
However, fun is not all to be gained from this program.
Dr. Kelli Nipper, M.A.T. Content Director at Clayton State, hopes it will set students on a successful career path in STEM.
"STEM is a field that is really growing," she stated. "But our STEM fields are the fields that students aren't going towards. We're wanting to promote interest in STEM in much younger ages so that more students can see the types of careers STEM has to offer."
Nipper has been a facilitator of the program since its origins and is glad to see that the program expands year after year and the students are more eager to participate than ever.
"This is our biggest group yet," she said. "Because the groups are getting larger and larger every year, we are able to provide more sessions. It's great! I really appreciate all the professors' willingness to volunteer and all the preparation that went into this. This is a fantastic tribute to our college."