Learning STEMs from fun: FloridaLearns offers interactive program for rural, gifted students


Group 1 presents their coaster, The Spiderweb during the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars program. They got extra points for incorporating a corkscrew in the design.

Kathy Harrison | The Sun
Published: Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 01:57 PM.

Inside the Student Services Center in Northwest Florida State College last week, groups of Walton County students are busy flipping chairs over and binding things together with a massive amount of masking tape.

It looks like chaos, but it's actually the product of young minds at work for the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars.

"It's really cool," said Ashley Ellis, freshman at Walton High School who hopes to study pediatric oncology. "We get to use our creativity. We don't always get to do that in school. With these challenges, it helps provoke critical thinking and ingenuity."

The activity at hand was to construct a roller coaster model using only pipe insulation, masking tape and a meter stick in two hours. Students from Freeport , South Walton, Walton and Paxton were randomly divided into small groups to come up with their design with only a few parameters.

"We kind of toss them together so they can socialize with students from other schools," says Brenda Crouch, a consultant with the Florida Learns Academy. 

  There's five minutes on the clock and most students are rushing to finish their projects. However, one group is starting all over. They quickly flip over chairs to help accommodate a jump in the roller coaster track model. Using a glass marble, they test the coaster to make sure the car will make the jump. It works.

"I'm not going to look at chairs the same way again," says Crouch. 

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