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Student club focuses on technology, engineering and mathematics

Sunday, Nov. 25 | By Alisa Booze Troetschel
Fifth-graders Bianca Purpura, left, Alexis Johnson and Jensen Quay work on their project in Pearson Elementary School’s STEM group Monday in Catlett. Photo by Alisa Booze Troetschel
Six 2-inch square tiers of cardboard and masking tape about a foot long on each side form the outside w alls of the solar house.

Eventually, plaster will cover the walls for insulation and to make the temperature outside independent of the internal temperature, said Emmylou Kidder, 13, and in the eighth grade at Cedar Lee Middle School.

She and her two teammates will construct an inner layer of cardboard.

The goal is to recreate how a refrigerator works — two layers with space in between — said Emily Wheaton, 13, and in the eighth grade.

Emily bounces as if rocking to a tune when she sees that the windows she made of plastic wrap fit.

Hope Jones, 12, and in the seventh grade, said the requirements of the house include two windows and a working door.

The girls are part of a STEM Club at Cedar Lee . STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

In addition to the one at Cedar Lee, there is also a STEM group for fifth-graders at H.M. Pearson Elementary School.

At Pearson, a dozen students receive a “marshmallow challenge” from Assistant Principal Amy Angelo and Joyce Macey, a teacher. In 18 minutes, they are to suspend a marshmallow on top of freestanding spaghetti sticks.

To accomplish this , they have 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string , and the marshmallow . They may use scissors and a pencil.

The students groaned after Angelo explained their task. Then they teamed up in groups of three and got to work.

These are examples of the projects that STEM students tackle. Faculty at both sc hools emphasize a team approach.

While the problem to solve varies, the steps to approac h it remain the same, said Angelo and Macey. Students identify the problem, make a plan, and test it.

At the end of the marshmallow challenge, Angelo and Macey led each group in assessing how they went about the task.

Anne Bryant, a life sciences teacher who co-leads Cedar Lee’s STEM Club with Steve Fine, a technology education teacher, plans for the students to critique their own house design and each others’ when they finish. The exercise will help them learn how to constructively critique.

Twelve students are in the club this year. It is in its second year of operation.

Last year, the Cedar Lee STEM Club focused on aeronautics and mechanical engineering and structure, Bryant said.

This year, the overarc hing topic is renew able energy resources. Bryant intends to follow solar power with wind and water power. Next semester , they will examine amusement park physics.

STEM is built into the fifth-grade curriculum at Pearson. Every six weeks, students rotate between music, art, physical education, library and STEM. They meet every Monday morning.

Pearson plans to hold at STEM Fair in the spring where all fifth-graders can submit entries.

Students at both schools work on their own. Bryant and Fine are a vailable to advise on projects.

Angelo and Macey leave the students to find solutions totally on their own.

“We put it out there,” said Macey, “and then it’s hands off.”

Sometimes ideas don’t come fast enough.

“There is a fine line between fun and frustration, ” Macey said. Students help eac h other work through moments of frustration, Angelo said.

Their only constraint is time, Angelo said. It keeps the students focused.

Part of the purpose is to build teams and to learn how to collaborate. Angelo and Macey continually partner different students with each other so that they can adapt to working with anyone.

They also hope to foster creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, leadership and responsibility.

On Bryant’s part, she wants the students to “have a never - give-up attitude.”

“There’s always another solution to a problem, ” Bryant said.

Angelo has watched communication skills improve . Students are patient and encouraging to each other.

Bryant hopes to teach students to use their skills in the work they choose down the road.

Not enough students graduate from college with degrees science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Bryant.

They don’t know about the careers available to them. Many, she said, will ha ve jobs that haven’t even been created yet.

For now, it’s just “super fun to make stuff,” said P earson fifth-grader Hunter Ryan.

Emmylou at Cedar Lee agrees. She plans to be a naturalist and study wildlife , but through STEM she has learned to enjoy physical science.

Margaret Schwindt said the STEM Club activities don’t seem like schoolwork. Schwindt teaches special education at Cedar Lee, and is the mother of 13-year-old Matthew Sc hwindt in the STEM Club.

“They let creativity flow,” said Schwindt, speaking of her colleagues Bryant and Fine.

Bryant seeks a corporate sponsor to assist with funding projects.
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