Students at some schools are racing to learn STEM concepts in a very fun way. There’s nothing more exciting than NASCAR and a speedway venue is just the thing to help teach students these important subjects.

Racing to Learn STEM ConceptsDon Schlater and Colin Crandell sat in the “Monster Bridge” that extends over the track at Dover International Speedway, race cars thundering below them.

“Well you can’t beat this venue,” said Schlater, a technology teacher at Beacon Middle School in Lewes. “It’s certainly the most exciting place I’ve ever had professional development.”

When you think about it, Schlater says, NASCAR venues are basically a field laboratory for science, technology, engineering and math, or “STEM” concepts.

The cars push the limits of engineering, built to obtain and withstand colossal speeds and forces. The track itself is a physics experiment in angles and vectors.

Even the bridge where he was sitting is a feat of acoustic science, designed to allow just enough roar to be exciting without crossing the line into deafening.

Schlater and Crandell were two of dozens of teachers who spent Wednesday and Thursday learning ways to bring those lessons into their classrooms. They hope it will give their students hands-on lessons that will also play into their interests.

The training was part of the DrivingScience program, developed by Clemson University and sponsored by STEM-based companies such as the DuPont Co.

Dot Moss, academic program director at Clemson, organized the training. She said the program is an effort to find real-world science applications students are interested in.

“If you’re a kid from this area, what’s a cooler use for engineering and science than NASCAR?” Moss said. “We think it’s important to find things that will interest students and design teaching around that.”

Teachers designed and built miniature race cars powered by mousetraps, then put them to the test on new race-quality asphalt. They built cars for maximum safety – each had to protect an egg in a simulated crash.

Now that they’ve done these projects themselves, the teachers say they’re more confident going back to their schools and having their students take them on.

The projects are part of a shifting emphasis in how schools teachmath and science. New standards in the pipeline for Delaware focus less on drilling problems and more on “hands-on learning” through projects and team exercises.

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Racing to Learn STEM Concepts