By Cody White / January 14, 2019

Hands-on learning at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum proves STEM has no limits

STEM is well known as an outside-the-box approach to classroom learning. But increasingly it’s becoming an outside-the-classroom phenomenon as well. The old adage that it takes a village has never been more true, and businesses, universities, libraries, and other organizations have been standing up to provide high-quality STEM education alongside schools.

Museums are another type of organization keenly suited to bringing educational value to a community in this way. A quick virtual tour of the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas, shows exactly why this is so.

Midland’s economy is booming thanks to its region’s petroleum reserves and the ingenuity of its entrepreneurs and engineers. At the Petroleum Museum, visitors can explore this legacy of innovation. They can chart the evolution of petroleum extraction technology – surveying steam, gas, and electric drilling rigs. They can visit a re-created 1930s boomtown. They can learn about the energy sources of tomorrow. And they can even peruse an art gallery highlighting the region’s cultural past.

In short, the museum offers an astounding assortment of resources for the Midland community. “Our mission is to share the petroleum and energy story and its impact on our daily lives through educational programs, interactive exhibits, an archives center, and our Petroleum Hall of Fame,” said Mara Bland, the museum’s director of education.

The museum recently completed an $18 million renovation of its petroleum exhibits that includes hands-on, interactive exhibits featuring new technologies in the industry alongside advances in supplemental energies.

Skills for Innovation

“The museum’s education programs focus on both STEM and STEAM programming to inspire students and help them make connections within those fields to become better problem solvers,” said Bland. “We acknowledge the fact that not every student will become a scientist or an engineer, but we believe in the importance of thinking critically and developing skills at an early age.”

Skills like creativity and problem-solving are highly prized in the workplace and useful in life. The key is to awaken these abilities at a young age, and makerspaces are a perfect tool for doing this. During summer science camps this year, students from the community completed open-ended projects using makerspace carts purchased from Pitsco. Young minds – and hands – explored hydraulics, gears, pulleys, and more. The Maker Space Materials Package and Tools Package provided unlimited resources for creativity.

Hydraulics is, of course, a key technology in the oil extraction industry, so it’s of particular relevance to a community like Midland. Kits such as the T-Bot® II, which gives students a hands-on experience creating and working with hydraulics, proved popular at the summer camps and beyond. “The students assembled the hydraulic arms and then we reutilized them in our STEM-gineering Family Science Night,” said Bland.

Robotics is a growing trend not only in the petroleum industry but also in almost all sectors. In this area as well, the Petroleum Museum is ensuring that kids in Midland are poised for this future. The Robotics Outreach program and Building Bots Robotics & Engineering Funlabs are loaded with robotics options, now including a wealth of TETRIX® PRIME products. The high-grade aluminum and plastic kits, combined with the EV3 controller module, allow for programmable robots.

Students become the programmers and engineers working to bring innovation to our energy future. The museum also recently purchased several KUBO kits from Pitsco. KUBO is a screen-free (and completely adorable) programming solution for K-2 students.

Museums and schools have long shared the goal of bringing education to students. The adoption of STEM and STEAM education is a natural development. At times, these two institutions are even directly connecting. In this spirit, a plan is underway at the Petroleum Museum to create a lending library of trunks with Pitsco Straw Rocket Launcher kits that can be checked out by teachers in surrounding communities. The straw rockets are a popular activity that can be used to teach rocketry, aerodynamics, the scientific method, and more.

STEM has grown well beyond the walls of the classroom. We absolutely love to see all kinds of community organizations and businesses coming together around the goal of preparing students for their future. Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, we salute you.

Photos submitted by the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum

TOPICS: BEYOND THE CLASSROOM, IDEAS & INSPIRATION, Makerspace, Culture, Science, STEM, Future Ready, Hands-on Learning

Cody White

Written by Cody White

As a communications assistant at Pitsco, my job is to learn about interesting developments in the world of education and STEM and to bring those stories to you. Everywhere you look in life there are incredible stories. This is something I learned during a childhood spent exploring the woods with a magnifying glass. It’s great to work for a company that prizes learning, imagination, and exploration.