Cooper Middle School, Austell

“We put our blood, sweat, and tears into it. That was amazing.”

When you ask students Aja Jackson, Ivie Osagie, and sisters Jumoke and Funmilayo Ogunsola about their heroes, without hesitation all four girls name their parents. Mom helps with homework. “She may not know the answer to every question but she tries her best and I appreciate that,” says Funmilayo. Dad encourages Ivie to do her best in school. “Ever since day one, he’s been grinding to make sure that I do well and always at the top of my class.”

Their parents also motivate them to stay committed to a goal, even when it’s difficult. And it definitely got tough when the girls, along with other students from Cooper Middle School in Cobb County participated in a new competition during the 2016-2017 school year. Sponsored by Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the Atlanta Braves, the competition combined STEM education and baseball by asking students to build baseball launching devices. It also included supporting activities developed by GTRI and Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) to extend learning beyond building the device.

Teams received their launcher kits in the fall of 2016. “It was just a bag of bolts and wooden parts that weren’t put together. We’d never seen anything like that before,” recalls Ivie. Using a basic blueprint, the students worked for months after school to build their launcher. There were times when they missed a bolt or made a mistake and had to take the whole thing apart. “It was trial and error as we went.”

In May 2017, the Cooper team joined students from other Cobb County and Atlanta public schools on the Georgia Tech campus for the finale of the competition. After a 10-minute practice session, each group received three attempts to launch a baseball into a blue bucket. The launcher had altitude and elevation controls so students could try to hit the target by making multiple adjustments. During an oral presentation portion of the competition, a panel of judges evaluated students on their STEM literacy skills.

Stephanie Ruffner, teacher at Cooper middle school

After a tough deliberation, the judges chose Cooper as the winning team. The Braves invited them to the May 4th game at SunTrust Park to throw out the first pitch using their launcher. The team’s 7th graders decided on a Star Wars theme, including the phrase “May The Fourth Be With You,” a punny nod to the film and Star Wars Day, which falls on May 4th of each year.

Aja, Ivie, Jumoke, and Funmilayo say the competition taught them the value of teamwork and dedication. “You really had to work together in order to accomplish this big goal,” says Jumoke. Aja adds, “You may feel like quitting, but in the long run it’s all going to be worth it because you’re gonna feel accomplished.”

Their teacher, Stephanie Ruffner, says these skills will help the students in college and beyond. “It’s about learning those life skills that are really going to help them stand out and be able to work together.” Thanks to the competition, Ruffner has also changed the way she teaches; she now encourages more problem-solving from her students. “That is due to the challenges that I know that they’re going to face in the real world.”


Georgia Tech Connection

Jack Wood portraitJack Wood is a senior research scientist at GTRI’s EO Systems Innovation Division. He develops research programs in areas of biotechnology and assistive technology. He also supports sponsored research projects through opto-mechanical design as well as instrument design, construction and testing. Project areas include technology for vision enhancement, the design of assistive technology for individuals with disabilities, design of medical instrumentation, and atmospheric remote sensing. 


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