YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — After a quick tutorial, Yokosuka’s explosive ordnance disposal sailors handed the controls of one of the Navy’s bomb-diffusing robots to a group of sixth-grade girls.
Using the joystick and various buttons, the girls controlled the robot to grab a bucket and other items placed around the garage, which is inside the disposal team’s dive locker.
“You don’t have to hit that guy,” an observing sailor said with a smile as a colleague walked by in the rain outside the garage. On cue, the robot jerked forward, sped up and struck the sailor’s leg, eliciting laughter from students and sailors alike.
The moment of levity was part of a larger, more serious effort by Department of Defense Education Activity schools to get students more interested in technical fields, as sailors played host to students from Yokosuka, Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi for a science, technology, engineering and math conference on Wednesday.
Students split off in groups for a variety of demonstrations, including lessons in thermal imaging for search-and-rescue operations; hospital technology and procedure; and blood-pattern analysis with Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents.
Yokosuka Middle School’s Mackenzie Herrera paid close attention to the demonstrations.
“I want to be a biologist, because I really like working with animals,” Herrera said.
The conference placed an emphasis on motivating girls, since national statistics have shown women are underrepresented in technical fields.
Overall, the United States continues to lag behind countries like China, South Korea and Canada in STEM studies. The United States ranked 26th of 34 countries in mathematics in 2012, according to a standardized test administered to 15 year olds by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. U.S. students also ranked 21st in science, according to the most recent OECD results.
In 2010, the White House announced a public-private partnership with Intel and other technology firms to prepare more than 10,000 new math and science teachers and train more than 100,000 existing teachers.
DODEA schools have launched pilot programs and added more technology to classrooms in their efforts to improve STEM achievement among students.