Civil Air Patrol
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CAP-Provided Kits Spur Student Interest in STEM Subjects

5 New Offerings Expand Number of Kits to 15

Vicky Travis
Contributing Writer
Originally on the CAP Newsroom

Civil Air Patrol’s aerospace education team helps teachers and CAP squadron leaders reach a new generation of STEM learners, piquing interest in science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on, fun activities and curriculum.

The team’s STEM Kit program, launched in 2013 with funding from the Air Force STEM Outreach Office, unveiled five new kits recently as part of CAP’s 75th anniversary cadet program celebration. That gives teachers and CAP aerospace education officers 15 kits to choose from to help students find and develop passions in aerospace, aviation, rocketry, robotics and more. Aerospace education officers apply for kits and present the material to cadets.

The AE team developed the new kits with all ages in mind: Bee Bots, Sphero, Middle School Math, Renewable Energy and Snaptricity.

A growing number of jobs in STEM fields will need qualified candidates to fill them. By 2024 jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow by 8.9 percent, according to a March report by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The Air Force wants STEM materials in the hands of young people in America to introduce a variety of potential STEM careers,” said Sue Mercer, an educator on the aerospace education team.

“This is an invaluable resource for teachers,” said CAP Capt. Spencer Kiper, a middle school STEM teacher in Shreveport, Louisiana. “It gives them the curriculum and tells them how to use it. Twenty-first century teachers need this current, cutting-edge stuff.”

As aerospace education members, teachers may choose a kit, use it for six hours and submit an evaluation.

Kiper and Alex Hill, an aerospace education member from Montrose, Missouri, developed the curriculum for one of the new kits, Sphero, which helps motivate students to try coding and programming. He and Hill came up with the curriculum while serving as educator crew trainers at the Space Camp for Educators in Huntsville, Alabama.

Kiper said his students loved the flight simulator STEM Kit, which includes software that comes with a yoke, throttle and pedal set. This school year, Kiper saw the classroom experience come full circle. One of his students at Elm Grove Middle School, a stone’s throw from Barksdale Air Force Base, received his first orientation flight from Civil Air Patrol.

“He came back so excited,” Kiper said. “I have the best job.” CAP Capt. Brian Johnston, a fifth-grade teacher in Buford, Georgia, was instrumental in getting all of his colleagues at Friendship Elementary School signed up as CAP aerospace education members.

“I’ve always been more into hands-on technology and have tried to push the kids to think outside the box,” said Johnston, now in his 25th year of teaching. His principal bought into the idea and paid the memberships for all teachers, who weren’t all on board — at first.

His favorite response came from a teacher who saw it as just something else they have to do. But after implementing it, she was sold. “It was awesome. Her students are even better behaved and they all really enjoy it,” Johnston said. “Now, they do it every Friday.”

His favorite is the rocketry kit, he said. “I like to see the rockets explode off the launch pad,” he laughed. He builds up to using the kit with chemical-change lessons that he teaches small-scale using Alka-Seltzer and 35mm canisters. Then each child builds his or her own rocket and blasts it off.

Johnson has seen indifference turn into thrills. Using the robotics kit, two girls built the robotic arm and programmed it to paint letters of the alphabet, a project that would go on to take second place in a county competition.

“They weren’t looking into STEM originally,” he said. “But their whole idea was great, and they had to do a lot of problem-solving. There was a lot more to it than just the programming.”

Teachers often learn about the CAP STEM Kit opportunity through word of mouth. Since it started, the program has sent out more than 5,000 kits to educators, reaching more than 250,000 students nationwide and also benefiting CAP’s more than 24,000 cadets. More than 80 percent of youth exposed to the kits indicate a stronger desire to pursue aerospace/STEM careers.

Even very young learners benefit from the kits.

“The earlier the better to start using these tools with the very young,” said Dr. Rossana Chiarella, a pre-kindergarten teacher in Hialeah, Florida. “These activities remain in their minds throughout their entire school life.”

Chiarella, who has been teaching since 1992, also leads a STEM club for second- through fifth-graders at her school, where she’s used the rocketry kit for three years. The students blast the projectiles off at a local park with the help of a CAP team.

“We would love these kits to reach every kid in America,” Mercer said. “Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, home-school groups, schools, libraries are encouraged to use them.”

5 New STEM Kits Now Available
The new STEM Kits are Bee Bots, Sphero, Middle School Math, Renewable Energy and Snaptricity.

  • Bee Bots, for age 4 and older, teaches sequencing, coding and problem-solving to be used in a variety of subjects.
  • Sphero, for grade 4 and older, can paint, swim or dance and teaches coding and programming.
  • Middle School Math, for grade 4 and older, includes 1,000 parts that students use to build 2D and 3D models to learn math and geometry concepts.
  • Renewable Energy, for grade 5 and older, teaches solar, hydro and wind energy by constructing working models out of 583 parts.
  • Snaptricity, for middle school and older, teaches how electricity and magnetism can be used to generate each other with 75 different projects to choose from.

Already-available kits are Astronomy, Flight Simulator, Model and Remote-Control Aircraft, Robotics, Rocketry, Quadcopter, Weather Station, Hydraulic Engineering, Raspberry Pi and Ready-to-Fly Quadcopter.

More information can be obtained via email or online.