EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Edwards Air Force Base STEM recently hosted 27 students in a first-ever pre-algebra summer program for local students at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California.
The program is called Promoting Relevance and Interest in Mathematic Experiences, or PRIME. It was designed to prepare students for high school Algebra. Edwards AFB STEM outreach manager Helida Vanhoy said it is a pilot program that she hopes will take off and land at other bases.
“We are having all students take a pre- and post-test,” Vanhoy said. “We want to see if there truly is a delta (difference), meaning that the statistical analysis will show a P-value confirming a greater understanding of the Algebra concepts.
Vanhoy said math is a vital part of STEM.
“Math is the core of all STEM careers and a greater understanding of the math could lead to an increased interest in STEM careers,” Vanhoy added.
“As I look around at the programs that are out there, the more I realized that none of them really address the math specifically and the math is the core of every one of the sciences,” Vanhoy explained. “Things are not working, kids are not getting better, if we don’t address it. We're still not getting as many people interested in the sciences when we keep doing the same thing over and over.”
PRIME’s approach to the subject is what sets it apart from other programs. Vanhoy said the early results are promising and is excited to share her data with Air Force K-12 STEM.
One of the early lessons learned about the pilot PRIME program is that location is key.
Just like other test programs, PRIME had its share of challenges that Vanhoy and her staff of volunteers worked through to overcome. Vanhoy explained that they had originally planned to conduct the program exclusively on Edwards. However, due to its distance to the nearby cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, only one student was able to attend the first day.
“We were shocked. We said ‘okay, we have two options; to cancel or postpone the start for a later date.’ We called every parent that had registered to determine why they did not show up. The majority of the parents expressed a concern with the increase in gas prices. We decided to find a location in the community and again sent out information to the local school districts,” Vanhoy explained.
The Air Force Flight Test Historical Foundation stepped in to provide a classroom for PRIME at Blackbird Airpark and it was a game changer.
“Ultimately, that worked out really well. We ended up with a cohort of 27 students,” she said. “I was very impressed with everybody that worked on this pilot program because we were able to quickly figure out what happened and how to fix it to make it work. Just changing the location made all the difference. Parents were able to drop off and pick up students every day.”
Since PRIME was a summer program, the students were able to focus only on the math.
“They didn't have other classes to worry about, their only focus was on math,” Vanhoy said. “The success of this program is a true testament to how well our volunteers in the test community at Edwards work. We had to act quickly to change curriculum, dates, times and location seamlessly.”
With the program running one week shorter and with longer days due to its protracted start, the PRIME staff wondered if that would have a negative impact on student engagement or attention span.
As it turns out, it was not.
A contributing factor to the improved understanding towards math concepts could be attributed to showcasing advanced mathematics at work in a real-world setting at Edwards AFB.
During the program, students were able to attend guided tours of base facilities and hear from subject matter experts about how they use math in their careers every day. One such trip was to the 412th Maintenance Squadron’s Propulsion Flight where specialized technicians maintain and test jet engines.
“We included the field trip opportunities here on base so that the kids can see how math is used every day for research and the cool things that are being done here,” Vanhoy added.
Vanhoy believes math is the gateway to STEM and the STEM career fields.
“The reason why we focus on math is because research shows that a small percentage of the student population pursues a math degree, and this is very concerning,” she said. “When you look at the state scores for math, they're at 38%, which is really sad. We need to do something to address the math issues. When we talk to the kids, they don't like it, they don't care for it, or they don't think it's relevant. So we're trying to change that because the better understanding the students have of the math concepts, the better they're going to do, not only in their math classes, but in the future.”