WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
Engineers at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division who created a STEM outreach program at the request of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) hosted the Seaplane Challenge Feb. 18-25, showing students firsthand a bit about the Navy and sea-based aviation.
Eric Silberg, an aerospace engineer at Carderock, and his colleagues visited with students from Carderock Springs Elementary School in Bethesda, Maryland, who also toured the base. “ONR wanted to build a STEM activity available to any school highlighting the Navy and sea-based aviation,” Silberg said. “We created the Seaplane Challenge in 2013 to fit that niche.”
With the guidance of engineers who visit the school regularly, the students build glider models based on the NC-4, a Navy flying boat that was the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. The model is constructed using inexpensive materials such as heavyweight paper, drinking straws and a few 3D-printed parts. The model is designed to be manageable but challenging and includes activities that tie into educational standards such as measurements and units. The Challenge also includes a curriculum component that teaches students about aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, engineering, aviation and history in a program integrated with NextGen and Common Core standards.
“I appreciate the support the engineers provide because they can answer technical questions students have much better than I can,” said Amy Talvac, a third-grade teacher at Carderock Springs. “I like how this project gives them a real-world application for many of the skills and content we’ve been learning. The students love it. I think it has inspired students to seriously consider engineering or another STEM-related field for a career.
Silberg said the one of the most rewarding parts of this program is when the students visit Carderock. They tour some of the experimental facilities, such as the wind tunnel, and then compete for farthest flight with the models that they built. “You see their faces light up when they connect a project that they worked hard on with what engineers do every day, then apply the concepts that they learned to improve their own models. It’s tough not to get excited about that,” he said.
One of the students, Patricia, said she really enjoyed building her plane and called the Seaplane Challenge “totally awesome.”
“I want to work at Carderock now; I want to build submarines!” she said. “Geometry is my favorite, but I didn’t know you could use it for fun things like this.”
So far, over 400 students have participated in the Seaplane Challenge. Silberg said he hopes that the program continues to grow and reach more students, some of whom may decide to become engineers and may even work for the Navy in the future.
“You can’t help but smile when a 10-year-old starts talking about Bernoulli’s principle and how exciting it was to see the inside of a wind tunnel,” Silberg said. “I’m excited to continue building this program and expand its reach beyond the region.”