NewsUA receives grant through a partnership with the Soap Box Derby to bring integrated STEM programming to Akron Public Schools’ classrooms09.03.2015UA receives grant through a partnership with the Soap Box Derby to bring integrated STEM programming to Akron Public Schools’ classrooms Researchers seek to increase students’ enthusiasm for careers in STEM Eighth grade science students in Akron Public Schools (APS) will get firsthand experience in engineering design and testing thanks to a recent grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The $742,356 grant has been awarded to faculty in the College of Engineering and The LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education at The University of Akron (UA). It provides funding to partner with the All-American Soap Box Derby® and APS to formally design, integrate and evaluate the impact of curriculum around the Soap Box Derby Mini-Cars that includes the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software, virtual and physical wind tunnel testing and 3D printers. Such an approach maps well onto the Soap Box Derby’s increased focus on STEM education initiatives. “Hands-on, experiential learning is at the core of the polytechnic experience at The University of Akron, and the earlier it begins the better,” says UA President Scott L. Scarborough. “The opportunity these students and teachers have to bring this kind of coursework into the classroom is incredibly valuable.” The project, part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, will develop curriculum that integrates engineering design concepts and skills in the existing 8th grade science curriculum and provides professional development for teachers implementing the curriculum. “Partnering with the NSF, UA and the Soap Box Derby has given our students a tremendous opportunity, not to mention a competitive edge for the future. Because of this, state-of-the-art technology will, in time, grace all of our eighth grade science classrooms and help our talented science education staff to continue to prepare our students for a bright future,” says David James, Superintendent of Akron Public Schools. Students in participating eighth-grade classes will test 1/13 scale stock Soap Box Derby Mini-Cars and modify the design of these “minis” using computer-aided design (CAD) software. The students will evaluate their modified mini cars using a virtual wind tunnel before manufacturing the cars using 3D printers purchased with grant funding. The final evaluation of the modified cars will be conducted in a desktop wind tunnel, and the eight-week project will culminate in racing competitions on a mini track. “This program addresses the need for curricular materials that integrate engineering design concepts in the science curriculum, especially with the introduction of engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards,” says Donald P. Visco, principal investigator and associate dean of undergraduate studies in UA’s College of Engineering. According to Visco, the material developed can be replicated in middle school settings nationally, especially with the use of the Soap Box Derby Mini-Cars and the use of lower-cost 3D printers for manufacturing. “Since 1934, millions of kids have competed in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron,” says Joe Mazur, president and CEO of the Soap Box Derby. “And with more than 100 licensed Soap Box Derby organizations in 40 states, the infrastructure is already established to expand the project nationally should the pilot study prove successful.” APS eighth-grade teachers will have several professional development opportunities linked with senior engineering students at The University of Akron to reinforce the engineering design process and technical content associated with the project. One crucial goal of the program is to improve student enthusiasm towards STEM careers. "This program exposes students to authentic STEM experiences in a technology rich environment, with the goal of increasing their interest in and knowledge about STEM careers,” says Nidaa Makki, associate professor in The LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education and a co-principal investigator. “This is essential in middle school where students have limited exposure to these opportunities". The University of Akron faculty team involved in the project include Donald P. Visco, associate dean of undergraduate studies in UA’s College of Engineering and principal investigator (PI) of the project; Nidaa Makki, associate professor in Curricular and Instructional Studies and co-PI; Nicholas Garafolo, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and co-PI; Wondimu Ahmed, assistant professor in Educational Foundations and Leadership and co-PI; and Kristin Koskey, associate professor in Educational Foundations and Leadership and co-PI.