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By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Coordinator, Society for Science & the Public
Caprice “Cappi” Coleman teaches at Moss High School, a small, rural school near Holdenville, Oklahoma with 293 students grades K-12. More than half of those students are considered economically disadvantaged, which qualified her to earn a Society Fellows grant last year to help her efforts to start an independent research program. Over the last several months, with the help of the Society, her students have spent Saturdays and time after school monitoring water and soil related to a recent oil-field development.
However, as one of the only science teachers at such a small school, Cappi says she has had to branch out of her comfort zone in life science to help her students. “I have so many kids that are interested in robotics and in electronics, and all those sort of things. Again, that’s not a strength that I have, but I feel that I am the last science that they are going to get from 7th-12th grade,” she says. “I’ve got to promote every kind of science and engineering; I’ve got to promote all of the things that I can because if they don’t get it from me, and they don’t go on to college, they are not going to get it.”
Last year, they built the school’s first robot. “It’s really complex. You’re thinking ‘oh, ok we just move it from here to there,’ but it’s an autonomous robot so you have to program it and just let it go, so it’s been quite the learning process,” Cappi says. Their work earned them a partial scholarship of $1,700 to attend Botball (an educational robotics program) and, thanks to the support from the Society, they were able to make up the rest of the amount in order to attend the event.
This year, they are focusing their attention on the First Tech Challenge, a competition that requires robots to do specific tasks, like moving pieces of a certain color. This year teams will try to score points against each other by having their robot put waffle balls into specific areas. Cappi and her students attended the STEM Institute Training over the summer to prepare and they also plan to attend a help session sponsored by the competition and receive guidance from and Okalahoma State University Extension agent from Okmulgee County.
“We’ve already accomplished more so far this year than last year,” Cappi says. One of her students was recently worried about winning the competition and she told him, “It’s not about that, look at how far we’ve come in one year and, I said, we still have a month so we’ve got a lot that we are going to be able to do between now and then.”
Independence in conducting science research can have many benefits for students.