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STUTTGART, Germany — What happens to a pumpkin when you drop it from a height of 98 feet onto pavement? That depends on what you shield it with, and for fifth- and eighth-grade students at Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School in Stuttgart that ranged from routine packing materials, such as paper and bubble wrap, to more adventursome solutions, such as marshmallows and bread.

The pumpkins, nestled in decorated cardboard capsules filled with such protective materials were dropped from the top of the turntable ladder of a firetruck Friday as part of a physics project.

Of the five capsules selected by the students as the best designs, three failed to protect their pumpkin cargo. One popped out of the capsule after it hit, but still remained intact.

It’s all part of a pilot program launched by Department of Defense Education Activity this school year as part of a nationwide initiative started by President Barack Obama two years ago to spur students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math. The goal of the STEM program, Obama said, is to reaffirm “America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation.”

This school year, DODEA began offering at least one STEM-based class in robotics engineering, biotechnology engineering, gaming technology and green technology engineering at 11 schools in Europe, Pacific and the United States.

“A lot of the initiatives that came out were targeting grades 9-12, yet it’s something that’s going to envelope all of DODEA,” said Michael Johnson, school principal. “So this year, we’re seeing that stronger push down toward middle school, and for us, we’re taking it all the way down to elementary school now, too.

“This project brings everything together into one little packet, where they have an engaging activity that they have to design, from their own understanding and based on information they get from the classroom, a device that will support a pumpkin in a drop,” Johnson said.

The monthlong project doesn’t end for the students with the dropping of the pumpkins, Johnson said. The analysis of the drop is as important as the preceding design process.

“Kinda like the space program, the best information we get is from all the telemetry,” Johnson said. “It’s from looking at all the data we have at the end of the drop. And that’s what the kids are going to get into. And hopefully get them excited about what they’re doing.”

The school has more STEM-based projects planned, including a math night in November where parents can engage in various math activities with their kids.

“I have a girl who always struggled with math, but now she’s like, ‘OK. Now I’m ready to go. What are we going to do now?’ She’s ready for the next challenge,” said Rachel Sutton, eighth-grade math and science teacher at the school. “So I already see some of that in my math and science classes.”

rogersd@estripes.osd.mil


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