Parlier California is a small town in the San Joaquin Valley located at the base of the Sierra foothills with rich agricultural land in every direction. The Parlier School District brought S.A.M. Academy to run a summer STEM program at Benavidez Elementary and Parlier High school. Teaching students of varying ages, learning styles, and backgrounds for six weeks out of the summer 2016 resulted in a great learning experience for both students and staff. As Benavidez staff member Stephenie C. reflected: “Through teaching these kids, I watched them develop different conceptual ideas in science as a result of our designed project based curriculum. As children walked through the doors, they were excited and anxious to get to work on the next project.” Students worked with glue guns and a wide range of materials to design and build working machines, special Making projects and integrated art works.
One project designed and built by students was balloon cars. In this project the students had to design a car with only a balloon, PVC pipe, a piece of cardboard, and bottle cap wheels. Students explained they had never used a balloon for anything other than a party and were excited with the idea of using a balloon to power a car. Through this project kids were introduced to Newton’s laws of motion. They were able to observe that the air released from the balloon disturbed the state of rest of their cars as well as different surfaces would result in different friction forces that slowed down their cars. By experimenting with the amount of air used to power the car they realized the relation of the force of the air to the cars mass. They also learned that as the air rushes backward out of the balloon it pushes the car forward in the opposite direction with an equal force. While testing their cars, the students worked and encouraged each other with ideas to improve and test their cars. Students at Benavides also attended classes in music, choir, and art, cumulating in an end of summer concert and gallery.
At Parlier High School students got to also design, experiment, build and create through science, art, environmental labs and robotics. The six-week STEM and art course began with a grid master painting using mathematics to understand perspective and alignment (also important engineering skills). The following two weeks, students were part of a research group for Model My Watershed. Model My Watershed is a program funded by the National Science Foundation and designed by The Concord Consortium to engage students through field studies utilizing sensors and web-based models. Students learned about their own watersheds and created models to improve water conservation practices, becoming young environmental activists. The rest of their summer was spent designing experiments and making a variety of bots to observe the transfer of energy and practice modeling. This gave them the concept knowledge to apply to building and coding their own robotic car using the language Python on a Raspberry Pi mini-computer.