WVHS students share STEM skills with Medieval event

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Posted 10/16/16

Before they set out to enjoy fall break, students at Walker Valley High School set out on a journey into Medieval history.

The school’s STEM Academy hosted “STEMaissance,” a …

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WVHS students share STEM skills with Medieval event

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Before they set out to enjoy fall break, students at Walker Valley High School set out on a journey into Medieval history.

The school’s STEM Academy hosted “STEMaissance,” a STEM-themed Renaissance fair allowing students to showcase their work in unique ways.

STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and math.” Walker Valley’s STEM Academy includes specialty classes in those subjects. To prepare for “STEMaissance,” each class tackled hands-on projects to practice what they learned.

“Project-based learning is a big emphasis for the school system — and for us at Walker Valley — this year,” said Assistant Principal Chris Green, who oversees the STEM Academy.

Green explained teachers have decided to encourage students to be especially creative with their STEM projects by hosting a special event with a unique theme each year.

Last year, students put their technology skills to work, building robots and tackling other projects for the “Star Wars”-themed “STEM Wars” event.

This year, students tackled projects using Medieval technology. Teachers and students worked together on projects both large and small to showcase how people have been using their knowledge of the STEM subjects for centuries.

Projects on display at “STEMaissance” included everything from archery using handmade bows to working trebuchets, devices utilizing counterweights to launch items long distances. Many of the projects involved students creating versions of catapults and trebuchets and using their math and science knowledge to shoot something toward a target.

Each student in each participating class was involved in at least one project, whether they built something or simply made plans for the build.

Throughout the process, students put their STEM knowledge to work. For example, those shooting “arrows” made of PVC pipes studied bow designs and calculated and measured their shooting distances.

“It’s giving them more hands-on experience,” Green said. “It is also standards-based, and it promotes collaboration among the students.” 

Alan Bivens, a mechatronics teacher at Walker Valley, had tasked his students with building trebuchets which could launch items long distances.

To an outsider, it may have seemed like students were playing more than they were working as they tinkered with the devices. However, Bivens said they were actually using their knowledge of physics and other subjects to fine-tune their final projects for the event.

Bivens said many of the students were “learning without realizing they’ve been learning.” 

Though it was schoolwork, students like Grayson Rountree, who was eagerly showing off the archery bow he made, chose to focus on the fun of it all.

“It can be a lot of fun,” Rountree said. “School can be fun, because we get to do projects like this. Our classes aren’t all just about the textbooks.” 

While students from each STEM class demonstrated their projects for other students and guests, the event also featured activities designed to celebrate the Medieval time period.

Students and teachers grinned as they danced around a Maypole, trying to create an intricate design with ribbon.

Students got acquainted with live animals like rabbits at a petting-zoo tent, a scene which hearkened back to times when such animals were common sights at markets.

Teachers supervised as students played the part of knights in jousting matches. Instead of horses, they used bicycles. Instead of knights’ shining armor, they used football helmets and pads.

Lisa Eulo’s German language students prepared information about Burghausen, Germany (the home of Wacker Chemie’s biggest production facility) to lead visitors on a scavenger hunt for information. Students at schools in the city with Medieval roots plan to visit Walker Valley later this month as part of a cultural exchange program.

Meanwhile, a tent nearby displayed art projects students had done to share aspects of Medieval history. Students made drawings of coats of arms and models of castles, among other items.

Green, who declared the event a success, said Walker Valley will likely make having a project-based STEM event an annual tradition for years to come.

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