STEM Students Survive Space at Expo

Christopher Murphy

The space simulator had a line of people around the corner waiting to embark on their space journey. (Gabe Cerritos / The Signpost).
The space simulator had a line of people around the corner waiting to embark on their space journey. (Gabe Cerritos / The Signpost)

Neither rain nor snow kept families and students away from the Northern Utah STEM Career and College Expo held at the Davis Conference Center on Monday.

In a packed event hall, businesses and universities demonstrated their contributions to science, engineering, math and technology with hands-on activities and experiments.

One attraction that drew a particularly packed line was the mobile spaceship from Discovery Space Center. The modified enclosed trailer, designed on the inside like a Hollywood spaceship set, housed screens, compartments and a command room that could hold up to 13 participants.

Skyler Carr, DSC Marketing Director, said that on the ship every person has their own job, like pilot or engineer, and gets to participate in a ‘create-your-own’ space mission.

In addition to the STEM expo, the mobile spaceship visit schools, birthdays and corporate team-building events.

“Mostly it’s developed around really dynamic problem solving,” Carr said.

When the spaceship goes to schools, students work together and are assigned roles to survive space missions, which are developed using real life math, physic and engineering.

Students face problems such as navigation, alien attacks and even dealing with each other. Failure to work together ensures a failed mission. Carr said that kids “never get a chance to be leaders” and experience decision-making like this.

Children and teens were the target audience of the STEM fair. (Gabe Cerritos / The Signpost)
Children and teens were the target audience of the STEM fair. (Gabe Cerritos / The Signpost)

In order to make this happen, an employee sits, behind the scenes, with two or more computers, a hard drive and a whirlwind of cables. They can then direct the free-flowing story using audio and visual cues like a theater production.

According to Carr, the kids are naturals at using the computer system on board and can usually outshine the adults who have been sent on the same missions.

“They’re used to touch screens and they’re used to multitasking and they don’t over-think it,” Carr said. “The adults come in and try to solve every single problem and they lose sight of what the main objectives were.”

Carr said that these missions have a meaningful impact on the way children learn.

Matt Neumaker, a shop supervisor for UTA, believes that engaged learning like the mobile spaceship is a great idea.

“We’re really happy to see kids come in and suspend disbelief and really choose to believe that this is real,” Carr said.

Carr said DSC has been working with 60 teachers in five schools in Utah County on simulation curriculum that is contoured to what suits the teachers best, rather than a concrete storyline.

“Rather than 1,000 programmed possibilities we want personal adaptability,” Logan Pedersen, head story writer for DSC, said.

All animations, construction and computer coding are done by the team a DSC. For sound effects Carr said they developed sounds based off of open source Star Trek effects.

Carr explained that it doesn’t always have to be survival-based. Some teachers utilize their simulation program to teach biology or economics. One such adventure Carr described involved third-graders using coin counting skills to pay a cosmic toll booth. It’s easier now to get the program out to schools said Carr, because of the amount of technology available in most classrooms.

“Our goal is that we believe STEM is so much more than just the information; it’s how it makes you feel towards the concept,” Carr said.

Carr described that the response from schools and teachers has been amazing.

“We’re excited to see that in the age of video games and virtual realties we can find a way for students to really realize a future that they can build,” Carr said.