Local program using bicycles to teach middle schoolers STEM skills

CINCINNATI — It’s as easy as riding a bike.

That’s what one local education program wants kids to start thinking about studying science, technology, engineering and math.

The Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative has once again organized numerous bicycle clubs across the region for 7th and 8th graders to hone their skills through studying the mechanics that go into making a bike work.

Walmart donated nearly 300 Avalon cruiser bicycles to this year’s clubs, for students to study, disassemble and reassemble, according to GC Stem Collaborative spokeswoman and Project Manager Mary Adams.

 

290 STEM Bicycle Club bikes are rolling into town today. Club students, get ready to get your STEM on!

Posted by Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Adams, a former executive at Procter & Gamble, said the program has kicked into high gear in this its third year, now with 18 clubs across the Tri-State.

STEM bicycle club student learns to inflate a bike tire. (Provided/Riding Forward)

“Three-hundred bikes means in year three, we are reaching more kids, getting them engaged, making learning fun and creating an impact,” she said in a news release Wednesday.

The program partners area educators, engineers from General Electric, and professionals in the bicycle industry with students to study and experiment with the bikes.

Casey Fisher, a second-year club leader and resource coordinator at Woodward Career Technical High School in Bond Hill, said the program not only piques students’ interest in STEM courses but can also broaden students’ understanding of just what they can do with a STEM degree.

“(Students) tend to have tunnel vision about STEM, thinking they can only be a doctor or nurse,” Fisher said. “But as mentors shared their backgrounds along with engineering expertise, they began to see careers that are reachable and of interest.

“That spark resulted from this experience,” Fisher said.

Woodward was the pilot school for the STEM bicycle clubs program in 2014.

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Dave Huff, who heads up Covington-based youth bicycling advocacy and education group Riding Forward, said his work with the STEM bicycle clubs has shown him how engaging children will actually find engineering and mechanics.

"It gives them a hands-on experience to open some doors that they didn't even know interested them," he told WCPO. "They had paths they thought they were supposed to have taken, but they got involved and by the end of it they were really engaged in how stuff works.

"It's cool to watch their minds work," he said.

In 2015, Huff volunteered as a bike expert and mentor for the club at Ockerman Middle School in Florence, Kentucky, where, over the course of the 11-week program, he took students through each part of a bicycle one-by-one, taking it apart and putting it back together.

This year, Riding Forward will volunteer with three area schools, Huff said.

Huff added that he has noticed also that the program might have an equalizing effect as far as gender. STEM being a field traditionally dominated by men, Huff said, "The participation between male and female students was awesome. It was equal at Ockerman last year.

"Ultimately, even if we just influence one kid to finding their passion, it's been worth it," Huff said.

The bikes will be delivered to the clubs Friday morning, Adams said.

Follow Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) for all things bicycling and living car-free in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

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