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Capitol Heights students’ solar panel stems from hands-on learning


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Photo courtesy Laura Coscarelli/National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. STEM faculty member Carlton Kennedy observes 10th graders, left to right, Gwendolyn Powell, Elizabeth Chavez and Juliet Daniel test the effects of cloud coverage on the amount of energy produced by solar panels. The group performs one of five solar energy experiments conducted Wednesday, Jan. 18, as part of the inaugural STEM Day held at Central High School in Capitol Heights.

Photo courtesy Laura Coscarelli/National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. STEM faculty member Carlton Kennedy observes 10th graders, left to right, Gwendolyn Powell, Elizabeth Chavez and Juliet Daniel test the effects of cloud coverage on the amount of energy produced by solar panels. The group performs one of five solar energy experiments conducted Wednesday, Jan. 18, as part of the inaugural STEM Day held at Central High School in Capitol Heights.

Published on: Thursday, January 26, 2012

By Dana Amihere

Central High School tenth graders performed solar energy experiments Wednesday, Jan. 17, as part of a year-long development plan aimed at the installation of solar panels at the school by 2013.

“Coming from the students, it’s way more meaningful,” said DaNel Hogan, an Einstein Fellow with the Energy Department.

Central students led experiments resulting from earlier learning modules on “Making Solar Energy Economical.” Results from experiments to test variables — such as cloud cover, arrangement and time of day on solar panels’ voltage, and current and overall energy produced — will help students devise a final report used to write funding proposals next quarter.

Central students joined Walker Mill Middle School and Bowie, DuVal and Gwynn Park high schools this year in a challenge to address real-world problems such as water filtration and soil quality.

“Traditional science is taught in silos — biology, chemistry, earth science, physics. The real world operates in collaboration. That’s innovation,” said Godfrey Rangasammy, Prince George’s County Public Schools STEM coordinator.

Central High’s STEM education provides opportunities for students to collaborate outside the classroom through partnerships with the Energy Department, NASA-Goddard Space Center, National Energy Education Development and Howard and Strayer universities, explained Central’s STEM coordinator Chelsia Berry.

The response, said STEM grant coordinator Terri Womack, has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“Students enjoy bringing science out of their textbooks,” Womack added.

According to a learning outcomes survey compiled by National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, STEM teachers reported that nearly 70 percent of their students had improved their engagement in the classroom, higher-order skills and a greater interest in STEM careers.

Tulio Mankam, 16, agrees that STEM has given him more career options to consider. Mankam, an avid soccer player since age 7, still plans to pursue playing in the World Cup for his native Cameroon. But now, “I want to be an engineer after that,” Mankam enthusiastically said.

“I can see the benefit (of STEM) for when I’m older. Most jobs need some science, technology and math ... without it, you won’t get the job,” said aspiring pastry chef Kaala Brooks, 16.

For Marquette Carter, 15, one of 25 girls currently enrolled in Central’s STEM, versus only 20 boys, STEM has given her the opportunity to crush gender stereotypes.

“Gender discrimination is a motivator for me. When people say that (I can’t do something) it just gets my blood boiling, and I want to prove them wrong,” she said.

Although women comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM-related jobs, which pay 33 percent more than non-STEM jobs, the Commerce Department reported last year.

Central, ranked among Newsweek’s best U.S. high schools last year, is one of the latest additions to Prince George’s County’s STEM cohort — up two schools from September 2010 with a $200,000 Race to the Top educational grant.

Rangasammy hopes to see STEM, in one form or another, expand to every Prince George’s school over the next five years.

Having NASA Goddard, National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies in the local area, Rangasammy said it “makes sense” for Maryland to be a forerunner in STEM education. Yet, the model needs buy-in from educators and leadership alike, he added.

In 2009, Gov. Martin O’Malley committed to triple the number of STEM teachers and increase the number of STEM college graduates by 40 percent.

Broadening STEM curricula is a top priority as Maryland not only ranks second in the number of professional and technical workers as a percentage of the workforce, a STEM research task force reported last year, but has 220,000 employees in professional, scientific and technical industries.

June Streckfus, O’Malley’s STEM task force co-chair said, “Developing a world-class workforce with strong STEM skills is the most value-producing investment we can make in Maryland’s future.”

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