AFRL STEM Academy continues hands-on learning during pandemic

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – The Air Force Research Laboratory’s STEM outreach program STEM Academy has started off the new year by distributing learning packets for homeschooled students around the Albuquerque community.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, STEM Academy has taken a novel approach to online learning. They have worked to ensure that students are getting a hands-on experience that is less common with the continuing online learning environments.

“We provide hands-on STEM activities to teach concepts in a way that’s engaging for students,” STEM Outreach Specialist, Larry Heard said. “When the pandemic started, we were faced with the challenge of continuing to provide the same kind of experience when kids could no longer come into our facility. We’ve come up with lots of new curriculum and activities that we can send home with teachers and parents and so far it’s been a great success.”

The staff has been working with schools and homeschooled students for years and wouldn’t let the pandemic keep that from happening, instead deciding to organize pick-up and deliveries of supplies to schools, teachers, and homeschool parents. They then arranged Zoom meetings with students to teach and walk through the process of using the supplies to learn about different STEM concepts.

“I’m just glad that they’ve figured out a way to do this with all the lockdowns,” homeschool parent Stephanie Umpleby said. “The kids can still get some hands-on interactive science stuff that you can’t really recreate as easily at home just as parents.”

The Zoom classes last anywhere from two to three hours and students can learn concepts ranging from how to write code using Python — a coding language that’s used in industry today — to building a paper satellite, while learning about the different parts that make up satellites, like those used by AFRL.

As parents of homeschooled kids across the city came in to pick up their packets, they voiced their excitement for the upcoming lessons.

“I think it’s going to be a great supplement and she’s going to learn things that I certainly wouldn’t be able to teach her,” mother of an 11-year-old homeschool student Kimberly MacMillan said. “I appreciate AFRL doing this because it’s really important nowadays to expose them to different learning styles. I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot too.”

When area schools begin in-school learning, the STEM Academy will continue to provide resources in the way of supplies, and virtual science instruction to both homeschool families and in-school classrooms.

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AFRL STEM Academy staff member Larry Heard on the day of the Homeschool STEM Packet Pickup. (U.S. Air Force photo/Macee Hunt)

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A homeschool parent picks up a STEM Tech Mission packet for her student. (U.S. Air Force photo/Macee Hunt)