By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A group of fourth grade students in Worland has gotten a glimpse of the future.
This fall, West Side Elementary School fourth graders got the chance to collaborate with Space Force, a new division of the United States Armed Forces, to conduct a science experiment involving engineering and a tower of index cards.
Ashley Weaver, the teacher who got the collaboration moving with a letter of application to Space Force, told Cowboy State Daily she heard about the opportunity from her husband, Dane, a teacher in nearby Ten Sleep.
Dane was named Wyoming’s “Teacher of the Year” for 2020 and through that experience, he learned about the Space Force’s mission to reach out to future scientists and space explorers.
“It was (Space Force’s) second birthday and the Space Force wanted to celebrate by accepting applications to collaborate with them from all over the nation,” Ashley Weaver said. “And I was able to be chosen.”
Weaver said her contact with Space Force began with Maj. Jonathan Hogan, based in Los Angeles, California. In October, Hogan worked with students virtually to perform an experiment called “The Tower of Power,” in which the students created a structure using just index cards.
“They were only allowed 50 index cards, and they had to build the tallest tower that would actually hold like a little small stuffed animal for 10 seconds,” Weaver said. “And to do that, they had to use the engineering process to help them decide, ‘What do I want it to look like? What’s going to be the strongest structure?’”
After the experiment, Weaver said all of the 80-plus students were able to hold a Zoom meeting with Hogan to discuss their findings.
“We actually took all of our fourth graders, and we set up the camera on our (smart) board, and they just had a great time talking to him and discussing things that went well, or that didn’t go well the day before, when we did our experiments,” she said.
“Maj. Hogan talked about Space Force and what jobs there were for (students) in the future,” added Bruce Miller, the principal at West Side School.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know what it was when I first heard about it,” Weaver said of the new branch of the U.S. Air Force. “And so he explained to us what the Space Force is, and how he got into it, and how engineering and the STEM process will help you get into any of these branches of job opportunities eventually.”
Principal Miller said the school is trying to stress a STEM-based curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and this opportunity to collaborate with Space Force fits right into those goals.
Miller noted that the school has recently been able to access federal funds to purchase STEM-related equipment.
“We purchased an inflatable planetarium, where you go inside of it and see the stars,” he said. “And we purchased a bunch of science tools — a lot of microscopes, and some of those Oculus glasses, a virtual reality thing. And we’ve done an outdoor classroom with a community garden — our fourth graders gave over 100 families food out of this garden.”
Miller said this collaboration is a rare opportunity to expose students from this primarily agriculture-based community to career paths they might not otherwise know about.
“We’re just trying to get our kids immersed into that, their future, probably,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what our kids will grow up and have to know how to do, but if we don’t give them their first taste of it, I think they’re going to be behind a lot of the country. So I think that’s kind of why we’re pushing it, to just get them used to using technology.”
“This was a wonderful opportunity for the kids because of the fact that it is a rural school, and mostly agriculture,” Weaver added. “Who knows when these students would ever actually have the chance to do this again in their lives? I had to take advantage of it for the kids.”
“I think the grit and determination of Wyoming folks is in our kids as well,” said Miller. “I think it will lead to great things in our country, to be honest with you.”