Army National Guard's Mobile Learning Center aims to energize Ballou students

By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Most students at Ballou High School aren't doing very well in math. Only 26 percent met or exceeded math standards on an annual comprehensive exam in April.

The students have gotten help from an unlikely source to get a boost in the subject.

At the school last week, the Army National Guard kicked off its Mobile Learning Center Program, an interactive nationwide tour on a mission to raise math and science literacy among high school students.

"The Guard has always successfully completed every mission, and we will succeed in this mission, too," Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall of the National Guard Bureau said at a news conference last month. "The future of our nation depends on its people, [and] education is the key."

The tour features "the Energy Lab," a 65-foot vehicle with a 24-seat multimedia theater and a 27-foot tent with interactive exhibits on earth, water, wind and fire.

The exhibits, which began last week, require students to rely on their math ability to control the planet's fossil-fuel resources, create waves to produce electricity, use simulated solar panels to capture solar energy and place a variety of wind turbines in areas that maximize electrical output.

Thursday is the last day for the tour, which will move to Atlanta next week.

Monique Petersen, an assistant principal at the school, said the lab allowed students to learn about science and math in a different manner than just in a classroom.

"We have to have different ways to actually differentiate the instruction so that [students] can be more engaged in learning," she said. "I'm sure they would love to be able to do this every day in class."

For junior Rian Hayes, that would be churning her legs to make waves on the water exhibit so that buoys would turn wave energy into electricity. "I thought it was really cool. I never thought that that was really going on," she said.

Hayes said she learned different wave types and which ones were the most efficient to be converted into energy. She said math would be key to understanding how to use the technology. "I can see how math is related to this. You have to be pretty fluent in that," she said.

Nathan Linduski, an instructor on the 11-city tour, said students who become better at math are more likely to take advantage of future job opportunities. He said getting them excited about the subject in high school could spur their interest later.

"The excitement starts from the second they enter the door. They're excited. They're asking questions. They realize they have to go to school to make a difference," he said.

Ballou was chosen because of the school's low test scores. Petersen said the lab gave students an opportunity to apply their knowledge and should help them improve.

"It means a lot for us. There's so much change that's happened at the school. We still haven't gotten them to grasp science the way we want them to, but this kind exposes them to something they can understand."

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