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STEM program hands-on approach PDF Print E-mail
Friday, November 09, 2012 12:53 PM

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DELPHOS — In recent years, there has been a growing concern the educational system in the United States is being surpassed by other countries in math, science and technology. A recently-introduced national program, STEM Education, seeks to address this by providing hands-on education in these areas beginning at an early age.
At St. John’s Elementary School, those in charge of the program are teachers Sharon Closson, Julie Neidert, Lois MacLennan and Lindsey Teman. The group also includes Mel Rode, who acts as one of the coaches for the school’s Lego Robotics team, another facet of STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education.

St. John’s involvement with the program began with eighth-grade Lego Robotics and now has expanded to include fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade and even high school students. It also includes other activities that help develop STEM skills.

“This year I’m teaching an actual STEM class for seventh and eighth grade every day,” Closson said. “The projects we’ve done using the design process and only limited materials include creating a package to ship a potato chip, the tallest free-standing tower, a display tower and a rescue device. We want them to be exposed to the design process and to have a chance to discover different STEM-related career paths at an early age. We want them to develop an appreciation for these areas.”

For Neidert, STEM is part of her fifth- and sixth-grade math classes.

“With my sixth-grade class, we did an activity called ‘Tinkering With Tops’,” she said. “We started by reading the history on tops and then talked about modern-day applications. In small groups, they drew a top design that they thought would work best and were given everyday, limited supplies to build them. If they needed more of something, they needed to trade with other groups. They would  then  test  and  refine their designs and then test them to see whose would spin the longest.

“STEM is an inquiry-based program, it starts with a question. It teaches them about refining a design when it doesn’t work, going back to the drawing board. It’s also a great way to teach teamwork and communication. They have to communicate their results, what worked and what didn’t. They need to help each other. It’s great to get them started in fifth and sixth grade, so that when they get to seventh and eighth, they already have some experience.”

Neidert is no longer a coach for Lego Robotics but Closson, Rode, MacLennan and Teman are expanding to include two teams.

“We started Lego Robotics last year with one team and did quite well in our first competition,” Closson said. “This year, we received a grant for another robotics program called VEX. We’ve even gone on to include some high school students, too.”

STEM isn’t your typical learning program. It takes a hands-on approach and allows the students to create their own strategies, which is something they have come to be excited about.

“I had a mom come up to me and tell me that her daughter would never talk about school and now all she can talk about it STEM,” Closson said. “I think it’s a very different program for them. They don’t need to be book smart, they just need to have ideas. When planning for a future career, it’s best to start as early as possible. I don’t want to say high school is too late but the earlier the better. These areas are often considered tough, engineering especially seems lofty. They need to explore it now, so they can ask ‘Am I interested in this? Can I do it’?”


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