Books REsized again
2013 BooKS project participants at the Rain Garden project designed by one of the graduate fellows
Tiao Chang

STEM Program Puts Students On A Boat

Hannah Ticoras
March 10, 2014

In the fight to garner more interest among high school students for pursuing a STEM major, one Ohio University program takes the lead – with a boat.

Now in its final year, Boat-of-Knowledge in the Science Classroom (BooKS) offers two-year fellowships to engineering graduate students and places them in a local high school classroom once a week to teach. The project is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) GK-12 grant and is a collaboration between Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering, Patton College of Education, and College of Arts and Sciences. Barry Oches, senior research associate at the Voinovich School, evaluates the success of the program, and helps to keep the mission on par with the language in the grant. Since its inception, BooKS has put 15 engineering graduate students in the classroom with hundreds of high school students.

“Boat-of-Knowledge” refers to a highlight of the program: a boat trip on the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers to collect and test water samples as an interactive supplement to the classroom. Originally, participants rode a boat that the program owned. After that boat was decommissioned in spring 2013, the program started renting the Valley Gem, a sternwheeler located in Marietta, Ohio. Using the sternwheeler allows twice as many students to participate.

By placing an upper-level STEM student in high school science classrooms, BooKS hopes to inspire more youth to pursue a major in science, technology or math, in part by demystifying such fields.

“Many students don’t realize how much they use STEM in everyday life,” said Elaine Goetz, a doctoral candidate in civil engineering and first-year fellow. “Modifiying recipes, for example, uses mathematics and chemistry. Once students realize that they are already familiar with and appreciate some aspects of STEM, they are more likely to choose STEM as a career or educational choice.”

Taio Chang, director of the BooKS program, says that introducing youth to STEM majors is all about seeing the field in action, which is why the group takes the annual boat trip. But the hands-on experience cannot stop there.

”We’ve designed and developed several virtual boat games for simulations of the physical boat that have generated some excitement, and we’re testing their effectiveness,” Chang explains.  

In addition to providing educational opportunities for fellows and high school students, BooKS also created a quarterly professional development program for high school teachers. These programs are held at the schools that the fellows are working in across Southeastern Ohio. Speakers have included Dave McShaffrey, professor of biology at Marietta College, and Ryan L. Fogt, assistant professor of meteorology and director of Ohio University’s Scalia Lab for Atmospheric Analysis, a student-run forecast service.

Chang hopes that the entire experience is a learning experience for all. Goetz said it definitely has been an eye-opener for her.

“I expected that teaching in the high schools would be a good learning experience for me, but I didn’t anticipate that I would enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the students and teachers so much that I would now consider teaching as a career option”

Although the current grant for BooKS runs out at the end of this year, Chang plans to apply for more funds to keep the program going.