Brenna R. Kelly
Seventh-grader Jayshaun Washington thinks he hates math.
But Doug Dicken, a financial manager at GE Global Operations, is determined to prove him wrong.
“Dude, math is awesome,” he tells Jayshaun, “and we are going learn some math while we work on this bike.”
The pair was dissecting a 21-speed silver Mongoose mountain bike as part of the STEM Bicycle Club at Holmes Middle School (Covington Independent.) The after-school club is designed to spark middle school students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math by showing them that STEM concepts have real world uses – such as riding a bicycle.
Dicken, who is one 15 volunteers who work with students once a week, then asked Jayshaun about the number of speeds on the bike, but he wasn’t satisfied with Jayshaun’s correct answer of 21.
“And how do you know that is bike is 21 speeds?” he asked.
“That’s 7 and that’s 3,” Jayshaun answered pointing to the gears on front and rear wheels.
“Exactly, see you love math,” Dicken gloated as Jayshaun grinned.
Around the small room, other volunteers from GE and from Fidelity Investments paired up with students and disassemble mountain bikes in order to examine each system and learn how they work together to make the bike move.
“Every week we focus on a component or a part of the bike,” said Jeffrey Haney, 8th grade science teacher and bike club leader. “They take it apart, work with it and then before they leave they put it back together.”
At the end of the 10-week program students will get to keep the bikes.
The Holmes club is one of eight STEM Bicycle Clubs in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Stem Collaborative (GCSC), a nonprofit group working to create a pipeline of STEM talent for the Greater Cincinnati area. The Kentucky clubs are at Campbell County Middle School in Campbell County, R. A. Jones Middle School and Ockerman Middle School, both in Boone County.
“We aspire to inspire students,” said Mary Adams, GCSC program manager. “We want to help them realize that possibilities are out there in their future that they didn’t know about and get them more interested and more motivated to pursue them.”
Students in the first STEM bike club, held last year at a Cincinnati high school, were questioned about their interest in STEM fields before the program and after, Adams said. At the end of the program the students said they had more interest in math and engineering and more confidence in their ability to problem solve, she said.
“They realize math is important, they gain confidence and they learn that design is important,” Adams said. “And their eyes are opened to more careers.”
The success of the first bike club prompted GCSC to expand the program this year with the help of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Time Warner Cable and Wal-Mart, Adams said.
In addition to the hands-on work on the bikes, students complete “excursions” in a workbook developed by a University of Cincinnati doctoral student. The excursions are math and science questions based on bikes and wheels.
In one excursion, students are asked to create a budget for bicycle shop they own, Haney said.
After just a few meetings, Haney said he could already see the bike club making a difference in the students’ appreciation of STEM concepts.
“I think it helps make a connection between what they are learning in science and math class and something that they do in their everyday life,” he said. “It shows them how science relates to riding a bike, how math is incorporated, how engineers come up with these bikes and make them work.”
In addition to math and science skills, students are also learning bigger picture lessons, Haney said.
“I think what they take from the bike club back to the classroom is this idea of problem solving and taking one concept and applying it somewhere else,” he said.
Students are also learning about STEM careers from the volunteer mentors while they work on the bikes and chat about what they do for a living, Haney said.
“They have really been the rock of the bike club, I’m really only here to facilitate, the mentors are really doing the work,” he said. “That’s the best part for me so far is the relationship between the mentors and students.”
On a recent afternoon, 8th grader Majdaah Salaah inspected the rubber tube inside the front wheel of her bike as volunteer Chuck Kohl, of Fidelity Investments, explained that the tube keeps the tire inflated.
“And why is proper inflation important?” he asked.
“Because if it’s not inflated properly then it could make the tire hard to move and you could mess up the rim,” Majdaah said.
Majdaah said she applied to be in the bike club because of an interest in engineering.
“I just like how it’s cool to build stuff,” she said.
Sixth grader Azriel Sendelbach also joined because she likes to build.
“I like to tinker with different objects and stuff and I think this will help me with it,” she said.
She’s already planning to use her new skills to design a better bike.
“Maybe I can improve the bike to where it’s safer, like if you were about to fall over it would have a feature to where it would balance you back up,” she said.
But she admitted the bike club isn’t only about learning. She already knows the first thing she’s going to do when she takes her bike home at the end of the program.
“I’m going to take it up to my grandma’s,” she said, “and ride it down the big hill that she has.”
MORE INFO …
Jeffrey Haney, Jeffrey.Haney@covington.kyschools.us