Fun learning STEM concepts

Students from Hillsboro Elementary School enjoyed getting to experience a military tour during their week at STARBASE. The helicopter was a highlight for many of the students.

While many kids feel like Christmas break can’t come fast enough, the 5th graders at Hillsboro Elementary School had jam-packed days that helped the long December days pass quickly.

Both classes in the grade had the opportunity to travel to Salina from Dec. 9-13 to Kansas STARBASE. The organization boasts of bringing science, engineering, technology, math and personal growth skills to Kansas youth since 1992.

STARBASE is a five-day program that delivers 25 hours of STEM specific curriculum. There is no cost for schools to participate which is very helpful for our budget-strapped schools in Kansas. The only cost is transportation for getting the students there.

According to their website, STARBASE focuses on elementary students, primarily fifth graders, to motivate them to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as they work on their education.

This was our 3rd year attending. In the fall of 2016, Dixie Kipling, the director called me up and told me they had a cancellation for the week before Christmas break. My sister-in-law, Betsy Janzen, was a teacher there and recommended our school to fill the spot. Once we get into the camp, we have priority as long as we re-apply in March when the apps come out,” said fifth-grade teacher Maura Wiebe. “I plan to take a few kids to the school board meeting on Jan. 13. They were putting together slide presentations before break.”

Fifth-grader Austyn Driggers watches as her classmates gather information during one of her many hands-on activities they got to do at STARBASE.


The students got to do all kinds of “hands-on, mind-on” experiential activities. In addition to learning about Newton’s Laws and Bernoulli’s principle, they explored nanotechnology, navigation and mapping.

The students also worked with engineering concepts as well as learning about teamwork. Teamwork is stressed throughout the whole program as they work together to explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate concepts. The students seemed to enjoy both of those aspects.

“My favorite thing was we did this egg drop challenge thing. We had supplies to build a plane for our egg so we made that and then we dropped them down the zip line into a wooden board that had a moon picture on it. If it crashed and your egg stayed safe and didn’t crack it would be fine. But if it popped out and cracked, you failed it. I failed it. But most groups did. Only like two groups worked,” said Preston D’albini, 11.

Another interesting aspect of the program is the military component. There are military volunteers who help the students apply abstract principles to real-world situations by giving them tours and giving talks about how STEM is used in different settings and careers.

“I liked the military tour the most. I enjoyed looking at the helicopters, looking through night-vision goggles and launching rockets we made,” said Amyah Werth,11.

Emma Bartel, 11, said her favorite part was also the military tour.

Many of the kids reported having a fun time. And many parents reported students who slept hard each night.

Wiebe plans to continue the tradition every December for several years ahead if it is possible.

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