A-Ha! Failure and Success in the Classroom

By Stewart Wood, TSA Chapter Advisor


I have been a teacher for 23 years. In that time, I have found that there is nothing quite like working through a problem that generates that “a-ha” moment for students. It’s one of the reasons that after over two decades in the classroom, I am still passionate about being an educator.

For more than half my time as an educator, my classroom has also been a Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) site. JSS is a STEM program focused on exposing 5th through 8th grade students to ever-expanding science and technology fields including alternative fuels, engineering design and aerodynamics. Sponsored by AEOP and administered by the Technology Student Association (TSA), JSS attracts students to compete from across the country. My students use teamwork and problem-solving skills to design and build solar-powered cars. That means I witness “a-ha!” moments on a daily basis.

My students’ experiences with JSS have further reinforced my view of the importance of teaching problem solving. Students enjoy working with their hands and collaborating with friends on problems.  Each group of students will establish a rank and file with the student best suited for a job taking the lead in that area and allowing those better suited to another part to carry that ball. There is conflict, challenge and even failure. But the students work through it, depending on their own inclinations, what they’ve learned and each other. They also learn which goals are “lofty” and unreachable and which are reasonable. They quickly find that if they jump into the project without first studying it, they will fail and have to start over. The moment when they figure out just the right combination of adjustments that makes the vehicle’s wheels spin like a jet shooting down the runway to take off—that’s incredibly rewarding.

As a teacher, it’s wonderful to weave excitement into my classroom. Of course, I think STEM topics are incredibly stimulating, but not all of my students agree at the start. Some take a bit of convincing. Being able to teach with the goal of creating the fastest, most interesting, and best crafted solar-vehicle possible assures my students of some serious fun.

But more than just fun, these activities are creating new possibilities for kids from all academic and socio-economic backgrounds. Our school is located in a community with a high proportion of low-income households. Between 93-97 percent of our students qualify as Title I. JSS facilitates career preparation and goal setting in these students in ways that other more cost-prohibitive programs or projects would not. By the time the students have completed their vehicle, they have worn the hat of many occupations: engineer, designer, graphic artist, machinist, manufacturer and manager.

The most important lesson that we take away is that when you approach a problem, you can take many different paths to reach the end of the journey. Students learn they shouldn’t give up if the first try—or second, or third—doesn’t lead to the outcome they wanted.

In my opinion there is no better way, outside of being on the job, to teach a student to understand what a career really is than to immerse them in real-world application, as we do in our JSS project. Problem-solving teaches students to be resilient and to look both inward and to their peers for the right tools. I can’t think of a more important life skill.

Teaching Collaboratively: Accounting Meets Robotics

By Sheryl Kirby. Teacher, RESET 2016


I began my career as an accountant. But after many years in the business world, I realized my true calling was in the classroom. I currently teach accounting and sports marketing at George Washington High School, which serves a large population of students from low-income households in Philadelphia.


When I learned our school was hoping to offer a STEAM magnet program—a series of courses for students focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with an added focus on the arts—I wanted to be a part of it. One of the most important things students gain from my courses is a better understanding of what a career in marketing or financial analysis fully entails. Math, the “M” in STEM, is already central to my classes, but our school community was particularly excited about robotics, computer science and engineering—disciplines with which I am much less familiar.


So, I was determined to find professional development that would reinforce my understanding of other STEM disciplines. What I found was something far greater.


My summer Research Experiences for STEM Educators and Teachers (RESET) program took place online through the Tennessee Technological University under the direction of Sally Pardue, Ph.D. There, I worked collaboratively online with other educators across the country. Initially, I was overwhelmed, but I quickly realized I wasn’t as far out on a limb as I thought. In today’s economy, almost every business venture relies on and combines STEM disciplines. And no matter the subjects taught, teachers and their students can benefit from studying the intersection of different STEM principles.


I was fortunate, following the online lab, to partner with educators with backgrounds in science and engineering. Together, we drew on our individual strengths to develop an interdisciplinary lesson that called for business students to work alongside engineering students. In the lesson, students are presented with a business need – to determine if a robot could perform a manual task better than a human. Then, students must compare the cost effectiveness of human labor versus machine labor. Students must also consider a few additional questions: How does each option address the challenges of today’s marketplace? What is the cost of building the project on a grander scale, and is it worthwhile?


It’s a lesson rooted in engineering design thinking, asking students to analyze a real-world problem, generate ideas, test prototype solutions and assess the results. And in our lesson, this design thinking takes into account the engineering and economic problem-solving critical to real-world tasks. The interdisciplinary lesson ends with products relevant to each discipline – accounting, engineering and marketing. Engineering students build the robot, accounting students conduct a cost-benefit analysis of human versus robot and marketing students produce promotional material for marketing the robot. Ultimately, all students are tasked with writing an MLA research paper about the project to determine if we can manage the process of improvement in a sustainable way via the use of the robot.


Though I set out with the goal of strengthening my skills and returning to school with a new STEAM course, my experience with RESET also benefited me as an educator and individual. Often, teachers don’t collaborate as much as we would like and I hope to bring more collaboration into my school environment. I also improved my own technological skills by using Google Hangout for the first time! It just goes to show STEM touches all of us in unexpected ways, and we all have room to learn.


Are you a teacher outside of traditional STEM disciplines? How are you engaging your students in STEM? Tell us below or on Twitter at @USAEOP.


STEM educators gear up to teach solar power

Middle school science teachers from Wenatchee, Wash. rolled up their sleeves earlier this year to enhance their approach to engaging students in hands-on engineering. In a training session with Pete Phillips, Executive Director of Technology Service at North Central Educational Service District, local teachers worked to harness solar energy to build solar electric cars. This workshop, which will continue in other communities across Washington throughout the month, is part of Junior Solar Sprint (JSS), a program sponsored by Washington STEM and the Apple STEM Network to cultivate an interest in STEM among middle-schoolers in the fields of alternative fuels, engineering design and aerodynamics. Every teacher who participates in the program returns to the classroom with a ready-to-use kit so students can design, construct and race their own solar cars. Hear more from Phillips and Apple STEM.

Connecting the Lab

By, Sara Munro, SEAP, Academy of Applied Science

High school students participating in the AEOP Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) get mentorship, learn some technical skills and a whole lot more. SEAP delivers direct insights and hands-on experience in the breadth of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. In addition, students also get a real-life taste of what these jobs are like for professional scientists and engineers working in laboratory environments.

When Adrian Henry, a quality assurance expert at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) in Rock Island, Ill., found out that his lab was participating in SEAP, he knew that students would be surprised that their experience would not include a traditional chemistry laboratory environment. “Our work assures that the quality of chemical and biological defense equipment meets the standards set by the Aberdeen labs and sustains these specifications over the equipment’s lifecycle,” explained Henry. This means a great deal of statistics, report inspections and quality assurance measures conducted by well-trained and knowledgeable engineers and scientists. In other words, not a typical lab bench experience.

STEM professionals like Henry are an essential bridge between research and development and field operations for the U.S. Army. As a mentor in SEAP, he brought a mix of quality assurance techniques and career development to round out the apprentices’ work at Rock Island. “It was easy to come up with ideas to engage the students in skill building and professional development. I applied the same approach I use as a team leader to gauge their interest. I found it fulfilling to share my experience and resources to help them,” said Henry.


Secret to Mentoring Success

The secret to making the non-lab-lab experience successful was a two-way exchange. The apprentices brought energy and openness to learning, while Henry and his colleagues offered expertise and an honest perspective about life as chemists, engineers and scientists working in quality assurance. “We need more people in STEM fields and being a mentor encourages that,” he said. “On a higher level, this helps our organization, community and ultimately our country because we need smart people in these fields to maintain our global competitiveness.”

Mentors like Henry appreciate that the SEAP apprentices represent the best of their class academically yet are still figuring out what they will study in college. They are seeking information to make decisions about their education and career. “Every little bit helps to guide them to find their way to a degree for which they are well suited,” he said. To that end, Henry organized roundtable discussions with engineers in a variety of fields to share with the students the realities of their daily work. Students gained great insights from the candid question and answer portion of the discussions. For example, Henry shared that chemical engineers often work in rural areas because chemical facilities are not built near large population centers. A typical career counselor may not be aware of this reality and it’s an important bit of information for a student considering his/her future career path and lifestyle.

The apprentices got plenty of technical experience, too, analyzing quantitative and qualitative data and learning the quality assurance and compliance processes. The Rock Island team emphasized how the data, while seemingly simple, are crucial to the success of further research as well as active duty personnel in the field. Data review cannot be disregarded or automated with computer algorithms; it must be conducted by highly skilled engineers and scientists. Henry also added journal discussions from the quality assurance field and the Harvard Business Review to build students’ overall professional skills. Through readings and open discussions, students learned time management and strengthened their writing skills. He also showed them how to search government job boards and best practices for applying for positions. And with their final presentation, Henry helped them hone their research, briefing techniques and public speaking skills.

In the end, it was a win-win for all involved. The SEAP program staff received rave reviews from students about how much they learned at Rock Island and the students went home with a deeper understanding of quality assurance. Henry shared that he advanced his own professional development while mentoring the next generation of STEM professionals. “If you plan and prepare,” he said, “students will walk away with something valuable and so will you.”

To learn more about becoming a SEAP mentor, please contact the SEAP office at (603)228-4530 or by email: . SEAP will be accepting student applications until Feb. 28 2017. For more information and to view the application, please visit

Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) Technical Symposia Travel Award Application

Working to inspire our next generation of STEM stars, the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) is announcing a new award designed to encourage AEOP program participants and alumni to engage in scientific meetings/technical symposia to showcase their STEM research.

The AEOP’s new Technical Symposia Award is open to all eligible AEOP participants and alumni who have a scholarly paper, poster, or other creative scholarly work that has been accepted for a professional conference to apply for a travel award.

Participation in scientific meetings/technical symposia will expand and enrich current AEOP students’ educational experiences by interacting and networking with STEM professionals in the field, exploring a variety of STEM disciplines and careers, gaining experience in communicating their research accomplishments, and serving as AEOP ambassadors. Additionally, it will provide AEOP alumni to reconnect with AEOP, present their current research or research conducted while with AEOP at technical symposia.

 Current AEOP program participants who have a paper, poster, or other STEM-based research/scholarly work that has been accepted for national professional presentation may apply.  AEOP research apprenticeship includes Science & Engineering Apprentice Program (SEAP), Research and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (REAP), High School Apprenticeship Program (HSAP), College Qualified Leaders (CQL) and Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program (URAP).  AEOP alumni may also apply to present their current research or research that they’ve conducted during their participation in AEOP.

Eligible Expenses Include:

  • Registration fees for conference or creative exhibition.
  • Travel fees: plane fares, train fares, car rental, ground transportation.
  • Lodging: up to, but not exceeding, the federal maximum per diem rate (
  • Food: up to, but not exceeding, the federal per diem rate (
  • The award may NOT be used to cover individual membership dues for professional organizations or societies.

For minors under the age of 18, travel expenses (airfare, lodging, food) will be covered for the presenter and one parent/legal guardian.

AEOP’s new Technical Symposia Travel Award will be awarded to program participants and alumni based on the quality of their applications and fulfillment of all eligibility requirements. For more information on how to apply, contact your program director.




GEMS Jarod Phillips



UNITE Hillary Lee




Application Information

Please be prepared to include the following information in the CVENT application tool:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Street address
  • City
  • State
  • Zip
  • If under 18, name of parent/guardian who will be traveling with you.
  • Are you currently a student? Yes/No
  • If yes, school name.
  • If yes, year in school.
  • Which AEOP did you participate in?
  • Name of mentor
  • Email address of mentor
  • Letter of support from mentor (upload file)
  • Name of conference you wish to attend with this award.
  • Location of conference you wish to attend with this award.
  • Dates you will attend conference you wish to attend with this award.
  • Will you be presenting a paper, poster or an oral session?
  • Title of paper, poster or presentation
  • Names of co-presenters, if applicable
  • In 200 words or less, please describe why attending this conference will help you achieve your professional and/or academic goals.
  • Total amount of funds requested:
  • Expense summary: Provide an estimate of expenses for presenter and parent/guardian, if applicable. Include airfare, lodging, per diem, ground transportation, and registration (for presenter only).

It’s Our Future: How Volunteers Power Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

By Doris Cousens, Director, JSHS


At the JSHS regional and national competitions, students and their research projects take center stage. Yet behind the scenes are hundreds of volunteers who make it happen. JSHS events are only possible through collaboration and volunteer contributions of thousands of Department of Defense scientists and engineers and university faculty. And, most importantly, local champions like Gayle Grant.


In her professional life, Grant has a very long title as Branch Chief at U.S. Army CERDEC (Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center) Flight Activity at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL), New Jersey. As the expression goes, she’s kind of a big deal. To us, she is volunteer-extraordinaire.


Grant’s involvement with South Jersey JSHS (also known as South Jersey Science Symposium at Ocean County Community College) is an example of volunteerism that stands out this year because the program was actually at risk of closing. Without South Jersey JSHS, 350 students would not have a local symposium in which to showcase their work. Fortunately, a core team of volunteers—with Grant at the heart—helped save the symposium. She and a private sector partner, Specialty Systems Inc., were pivotal in helping us make the transition from Monmouth University to the new host, Ocean County Community College, thus allowing the program to continue.


Grant’s contributions to JSHS go back more than a decade, serving as the Technical Paper and Volunteer Coordinator during her tenure. In this role, she engages volunteer mentors from the Department of Defense labs and professional engineering organizations in a unique mentorship component that provides one-on-one advising to students. These mentors help students refine presentation content, clarify key messages and provide feedback on public speaking skills.


“I always want to give back in any way. I, and many other mentors, stay involved because these students are our future.” said Grant. “Mentors get as much out of it as the students. They see progress from orientation through final presentations and watch students grow within six months – and they know that this growth is due in large part to their efforts.” Grant has worked on state of the art technology throughout her entire career with the Army. And through JSHS, she is able to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists.


The South Jersey JSHS volunteers have a long history of collaboration and volunteer contributions from DoD laboratories, including: Communications-Electronics Research, Development & Engineering Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Armament Research, Development & Engineering Center, Naval Air Systems Command and Naval Weapons Station Earle.


What is success in this JSHS region? “If everyone enjoys the Symposium,” according to Grant. “And if we provide enriching opportunities to introduce students to careers that they may not have known about.”


South Jersey JSHS and the National JSHS extend our thanks to local partners who also make this symposia possible: Ocean County Community College (new host), New Jersey Institute of Technology, Specialty Systems and local government agencies.


Will you be the next JSHS volunteer? Or student competitor? To find your regional JSHS, please visit the JSHS website.

AEOP Strategic Outreach Initiatives

Open Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership Opportunity with AEOP


PURPOSE/OBJECTIVE: The U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) through its cooperative agreement (COA) with Battelle is investigating new and innovative ways to form mutually beneficial relationships with likeminded organizations and technical associations that have similar STEM goals, specifically serving students from underserved populations and military dependents. In collaboration with STEM partners and by sharing information, leveraging strong STEM networks, and building on already existing relationships, AEOP intends to promote its portfolio of opportunities to better meet objectives, maximize impact, and provide more enriching STEM opportunities for students.


Teachers Bring Design Process to Life in the Classroom

Teachers want to strengthen their practice because we want to prepare our students to succeed. We want to engage them, and we want to bring STEM learning to life.

That is why I was eager to participate this summer in RESET, the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) devoted entirely to educator development. Through the program, I completed 64 hours of online learning and collaboration with fellow STEM educators. These sessions focused on the Legacy Cycle of Learning, which begins with a real-world engineering problem and is designed to help students organize and manage learning activities in the lab in a meaningful way. The engineering design process enables students to apply skills and knowledge from all aspects of their education from social studies, to science, to math and language arts.

I also worked on-site at the United States Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) in Ft. Rucker, Ala. with Adrienne Madison, Ph.D., and her colleagues as they established plans and protocols for their upcoming head supported mass research study. The study focuses on testing helmets for medical safety. Witnessing the collaboration in this working laboratory firsthand has greatly helped me teach and nurture collaboration in my classroom.

Following my on-site RESET experience, I returned home to Erie and led a group of three teachers in the development of a Legacy Cycle lesson that focuses on concussions and the science of football helmets. This lesson requires students to design, test and build an improved football helmet to prevent traumatic brain injury—a lesson following the Legacy Cycle of learning to engage students in creating a solution to a real world problem. I am now rallying my community to raise funds for materials supporting this lesson. I plan to lead this cross curricular STEM unit on concussions in my STEM lab, where students complete hands-on experiments to solve real-world challenges. I am confident it will go a long way in helping my students strengthen their application of biology and physics knowledge and skills to think critically, while using creativity, communication and collaboration skills.

All of these experiences helped broaden my perspective and ability to teach the engineering design process, a critical learning process for students that mirrors how real-life engineers solve problems. (The process typically follows these steps: ask, plan, imagine, create, improve and communicate.) However, perhaps the greatest outcome was walking away with ready-to-use classroom lessons that I developed with fellow educators. Being part of this online network of teachers from across the country has taught me invaluable lessons about the implementation of STEM across grade bands and STEM resources available at the middle and high school level.

How are you engaging your students through the engineering design process? Tell us on Twitter at @USAEOP.


By Lindsey Dahl


GEMS and Camp Invention alumnus Khristian Ward received special recognition from President Obama last month for proposing a valuable STEM solution to a problem plaguing thousands of veterans every year.

In his search for Kid Science Advisors, the president recently invited students from around the country to submit STEM projects and inventions. President Obama received more than 2,500 submissions, but selected only 11 of these students, including Khristian, to meet with him personally at the White House as his Kid Science Advisors. A fifth grader from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Khristian proposed creating a brain microchip to help soldiers overcome PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), an idea inspired by his own father’s experience with PTSD after two Army deployments in Iraq. “I want to help him and other soldiers like my dad,” Khristian said. He also submitted an idea for lighter body armor to help soldiers avoid back problems.

While Khristian’s winning submission incorporated military science, his dream is to study aerospace and space exploration. In fact, Khristian visits the Goddard Space Flight Center near his home every month to launch model rockets.

Read all about Khristian’s groundbreaking ideas and his exciting meeting with the Commander-in-Chief! Keep up the great work, Khristian!

A School-Work STEM Balance that Works!

katherine“Sign me up!” This was Katherine Clohan’s immediate reaction to a GEMS flyer encouraging local students and professionals interested in teaching science to kids as a Near-Peer Mentor (NPM).

Gains in the Education of Math and Science (GEMS) incorporates very talented and dedicated students that work as NPM’s each summer. Katherine, a graduate student working toward a Chemistry degree at Auburn University, has always found serenity with a school-work balance.

During Katherine’s second year as a NPM this past summer, she taught neuroscience and forensics to sixth and seventh graders. It was rewarding for Katherine to work with some of the underprivileged kids. For some, science meant reading out of a text book.

“I had a lot of kids this year that saw how science was fun and full of cool things,” said Katherine. “Because the students had that hands-on experience, they saw that science was more than just reading out of a book.”

Katherine had a pivotal moment in her college career while working as an NPM. She initially went to college deciding to be a doctor, then discovered through GEMS that her calling was chemistry and teaching.

“I told the kids you might have a plan now and figured out, but you’ll get to college or you’ll find something else and all your plans go out the window,” says Katherine. “It’s OK. It’s OK to have your world completely turned upside down. Just find something you are happy doing.”

Even though Katherine’s doctorate program is 4-5 years long, she’d love to continue with GEMS by writing a curriculum, working with kids for a week, or even being a speaker during one of the GEMS workshops.

katherine2This same inspiration has kept Katherine’s work-school balance going. This past summer during her neuroscience workshop, kids dissected a cow’s eye. When most students were done in 15 minutes, they were anxious to pull everything apart. For one student, however, dissecting a cow’s eye gave him a new awareness. The student realized he found something that he loved.

According to Katherine, the students enter GEMS expecting a normal experience until they find an experiment or hear from a STEM professional that connects the student with science.

“Their eyes light up and now they can’t wait to tell mom about it,” said Katherine. “That’s what makes it good for me because I now know that I’ve successfully passed on my love for science.”

Outside of Katherine’s busy work-school life, she enjoys reading, road trips with her best friend, and her new furry edition, a cat named Mendeleev.