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Posted 5/5/2014

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By Nancy J. Sticht

Inquisitive minds, vivid imaginations and lofty goals greeted members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Antilles Office when they visited the Antilles Elementary School at Fort Buchanan April 10. The team, along with Dr. Jorge F. Bauza-Ortega from the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, partnered with the Department of Defense Education Activity to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

The classroom event was only the first phase of the STEM initiative. Students will also visit the construction site of their new school as well as the wind turbines and solar energy panel sites at Fort Buchanan. They will then apply what they have learned to design a playground that incorporates “green” technology.

Carmen Martir, chief, administrative services, presented the topic of recycling and showed the students how to prepare compost and build plant and flower pots, emphasizing recycling plastic milk containers with a short video about recycling the plastic for use as playground flooring.

“First graders are eager to learn and recycling is an interesting topic,” said Martir. “They wanted to know what they can do to help, where they can bring materials – even televisions – for recycling, and how to talk to their parents about the importance of recycling.”

Martir said that this first STEM experience was fulfilling, and she was most touched when one of the children raised his hand and said, “Miss Carmen, I want to thank you for all I learned about recycling, because if we recycle, we are going to save the world!”

Jose Mendez, project manager and also a first-time STEM participant, introduced the topic of design for the future and explained that engineers, architects, interior and industrial designers all use their imagination to develop design ideas. He explained the elements and principles of design, including line, plane symmetry, rhythm, scale and color and relating it to their playground project. The students enjoyed a video of an architect designing a building out of a crumbled sheet of paper.

“Kids that age are very smart,” said Mendez. “They compared the photos I showed them with their experiences and didn’t hesitate to participate. The class was very interactive, and they were paying attention and enjoying the presentation. I enjoyed myself, too, and received positive feedback from the teachers.”        

Capt. J.C. Cordon, deputy commander for the Antilles, has been involved in STEM efforts since his assignment to the Army Corps of Engineers. “I have given talks on STEM-related topics and I served as head judge at the Robotics First Lego League competition in Puerto Rico,” he said.

He introduced the topic of energy reduction and discussed current and future green technology. “The students had questions about how windmills and solar panels work to produce energy, and about the different types of energy,” said Cordon. “This classroom experience, combined with the upcoming site visits, provides a great foundation for the students to use in their playground design project. I’m looking forward to seeing what these future engineers, architects, mathematicians and scientists will do with what they have learned!”

Antilles Elementary School Jacksonville District STEM U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE