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NJ Army National Guard an education ally

Guard’s STEAM Team taps into TETRIX® and other Pitsco products to connect with students

Published February 2, 2019
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STEM teachers dream big. They conceive of transformative experiences for their students – immersive activities that combine relevant, exciting technology with collaboration and critical thinking. But too often the thrill of inspiration is followed quickly by a familiar sense of resignation. The same old story: too few resources, too little funding.

Teachers in New Jersey tired of watching their big ideas fade have a new ally: the New Jersey Army National Guard STEAM Team. In 2018, the team began visiting classrooms and schools to provide customized hands-on robotics and programming experiences for students at no cost.

The Guard’s STEAM Team shares the vision of a classroom fully engaged with 21st-century technology and skills. And they have the tools and expertise to make it happen. Through projects with TETRIX® robotics, students get hands-on with a major growth technology – one that happens to also be loaded with strong connections across the curriculum.

How this plays out is largely up to the teacher. According to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Gagnon, Commander of the Recruiting and Retention Battalion for the New Jersey Army National Guard, the team meets the needs of a school by expanding or condensing any program. If a teacher needs a classroom session, the team has that covered. If a school wants to do a full-day assembly, they can handle that too.

In fact, the STEAM Team has even provided multiple week-long training sessions at schools. In the primary robotics program, students engineer search and rescue robots. Then students work against the clock to find and remove unexploded ordnance in simulated disaster scenarios. This activity is based on the Urban Search & Rescue competition designed by Pitsco and popularized at SkillsUSA®, but it also mirrors the high-tech rescue missions carried out by National Guard forces, lending authenticity to the program and credibility to the presenters.

Robotics is just the beginning. The New Jersey Army National Guard has two additional STEAM programs under development that will use different Pitsco STEM products. The first program is aligned around the CO2-powered car curriculum which incorporates wind tunnel technology as well as a 100-foot race track. The second program incorporates the use of air- and water-powered rockets.

Lieutenant Colonel Gagnon’s vision is to provide STEAM opportunities throughout the entire school calendar. All program offerings connect with a bevy of science and engineering concepts. Further, the STEAM initiatives clearly align with the education priorities of New Jersey State Governor Phil Murphy in developing a world-class STEM curriculum in the state’s K-12 schools.

First Lieutenant Douglas Mattei, a member of the team, spoke of the great benefits the program provides. “The STEAM program my commander has initiated is an opportunity to provide academic institutions with a vehicle to engage their students with new resources. In exchange, we are given the precious time needed to explain how the Army National Guard is an organization that serves the community, requires sharp young minds, and is a supplementary route to higher education – we pay for it!”

Though the program has just begun, early reports show that it is a runaway success. And no surprise: hands-on learning experiences led by experts have immeasurable value. The New Jersey Army National Guard is doing an incredible service for its state’s educators and students.

“Science should be for real. We should not be reading about it. We should be doing it. Expeditions have very much that same philosophy. It is the doing of it which grounds the theoretical information that you’re teaching.”

– Dr. Tammy Scot, teacher, Arapahoe Charter School, Arapahoe, North Carolina

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