15:52 PM

CAP STEM Kit Selection Continues to Grow

Quadcopter, Computer Kits Expand Choices to 10

By Jennifer S. Kornegay
Contributing Writer

Today’s world is driven by technology, creating a constant and continually growing need for people interested and educated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

To help ensure the next generation is ready, willing and able to fill STEM-related jobs and tackle the challenges we’ll face in the future, CAP’s Aerospace Education program is committed to promoting an interest in STEM careers and is doing so by providing teachers with STEM Kits – valuable tools they can use to engage and excite their students. Eight hands-on, interactive kits are already in use in classrooms around the country, and two new kits recently became available.

Dr. Jeff Montgomery, CAP’s deputy director of Aerospace Education, explained the importance of this initiative and its relation to CAP’s missions. “Aerospace Education is one of CAP’s three missions, and STEM education is a large part of that. The kits promote STEM and prepare youth for STEM careers, which will help America remain a global leader in the ever-changing technology realm,” he said.

Since the program began offering STEM Kits, more than 4,300 have been sent to educators, benefiting 190,000 students. The two new kits — Raspberry Pi and Ready-to-Fly Quadcopter — promise to be as popular and effective as their predecessors.

Both prove, too, that bigger is not always better.

The quadcopter kit features a tiny Hubsan X4 Plus that allows for indoor remote-control flying. It weighs just over a half-ounce and is small enough to operate in confined spaces. “Because of its size, you can take it anywhere, and it allows cadets to get the feel of RC and real aircraft controls,” Montgomery said.

The Raspberry Pi kit is also small in size but big in impact. The credit-card-sized, single-board devices are full-featured computers that can accomplish a near-endless number of tasks. They were first developed in the United Kingdom to provide affordable computers to students there.

CAP’s kit uses them to teach computer programming and the principles of embedded digital systems to middle and high school students through a series of projects as entertaining as they are educational.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Lartigue, one of two national staff STEM Kit coordinators for CAP (the other is Lt. Col. Frank Roldan of the Michigan Wing), developed the Raspberry Pi kit while an assistant professor of software engineering at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta. He outlined the many different ways it can be used.

More information on the STEM Kit program can be obtained via email or on the CAP Aerospace Education website.

“It is a fairly powerful and complete computer system on its own, but the real fun comes when you hook it up to external sensors, devices and instruments to work through fun, challenging projects,” Lartigue said.

Each Raspberry Pi kit comes with a full Pi computer set as well as three supplemental packs of external sensors, LEDs, digital displays and other accessories that can be connected to the computer. Projects supported by the kit range from simple, like creating an electronic keypad security lock or heart-rate monitor, to more complex, like building a real-time clock, an earthquake monitor or a GPS system.

“This kit will give students a head start on the real-world challenges of programming and controlling embedded digital systems,” Lartigue said.

And that’s crucial. As more and more smart devices enter the market, more and more developers are needed to program the software involved. “We have more programming jobs available than we have people to fill them,” Lartigue said. “This kit was designed to encourage kids to look at this career field.”

Betty Bigney, a CAP aerospace education member, knows firsthand how well the STEM Kits are accomplishing this goal. The North Carolina educator has retired from teaching full-time but still works two days a week at an elementary school on Topsail Island, where she leads STEM classes for K-5 students.

“The kits are fantastic. They have definitely enhanced my teaching by getting the children more involved in the topics,” Bigney said.

Earlier kits, like one that has kids building and then launching rockets, have added real excitement to school days for her students.

“The rockets get them so interested in engineering and flying,” she said. “I use the remote-control plane kit to teach physics.”

The kits provide students with more than newfound knowledge; they build confidence as well.

“My fifth-graders built a robot arm,” Bigney said. “They really didn’t think they could do it, and when they did, they were thrilled. It showed them their own abilities.”

Bigney pointed to another positive that has been particularly important in her area. “School budgets are terrible,” she said. “I would never be able to afford to do these types of projects with my students without CAP. Where I am teaching is a small fishing village. We’re not near any museums or other places where they can experience these kinds of things.

“These kids wouldn’t have these opportunities without CAP. I’m really looking forward to using the new kits.”

More information on the STEM Kit program can be obtained via email or on the CAP Aerospace Education website.