By Claire LaBeaux

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Education is an educational innovation that has been growing in popularity in recent years. STEM is an area that allows students to explore and have fun as they learn in the classroom and through afterschool programs.

We reached out to a district expert, student leaders known as Chief Science Officers and their advisor to gain insight into how STEM interconnected throughout the learning experience for Arizona students last school year.

“STEM is a style of learning rather than teaching that has a strong connection to constructivism practices,” shares Catherine Linhardt, STEAM and Technology Integration Specialist at the Pendergast Elementary School District. Catherine shares that:

The merging of the four disciplines will increase the ability of students to absorb the knowledge and skills. STEM is growing as an important innovation in education because of its emphasis on 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Skills include mathematics, computer, problem solving and critical thinking skills. These 21st century skills are not directly taught in STEM education but are a byproduct of the STEM practices of teaching and learning.

The growth of STEM in the United States starts with children. Adults can encourage students to pursue STEM learning by setting positive STEM expectations. Hands on learning, discovery-based play, and diverse experiences are STEM practices that occur in the daily lives of students both in and out of school settings. By providing new and diverse experiences, children gain creativity. When something they try for the first time is difficult, children learn perseverance. By encouraging new opportunities, parents are providing an environment where children feel comfortable and safe.

Trying new things can be a fun family adventure. Some ideas for new experiences could include trying family yoga, exploring a different community playground, petting an exotic animal at the zoo, or trying a new food. When children are offered new opportunities by their parents, they are encouraged to be open to learning opportunities. This openness to learning new things helps students become engaged and opportunistic learners; finding learning experiences every chance they get.

The Chief Science Officers (CSO) International program fosters the development of students who are passionate about science. It provides a pathway for youth to connect their interests to education. The team from Garden Lakes Elementary was selected as the CSO Team of the Year for the way they blend education and the fun of science by sharing “STEMonstrations” with other students. Below, they share about their experiences.

 

Abigail Brown, Student CSO:

Hello, my name is Abigail Brown, the Chief Science Officer at Garden Lakes Elementary. One of my favorite STEMonstrations we have done this past year was our donations for the organization Team-Seas, organized by Mr. Beast and Mark Rober.

Over the Morning Announcements, we were able to share fun-facts about plastic pollution around our world. We were able to present to younger students showing them how harmful plastic pollution is to the world and our environment. From our experience with the presentations, I learned that the students enjoyed the hands-on activities that we were able to share with them. The students were able to learn so much more about plastic pollution and our environment. We got a good response from the whole school, and we were able to raise funds to donate to Team-Seas.

I personally love STEM and science because you can do more hands-on projects and more interactive activities than any other subjects. STEM and science have always been my favorite subjects and categories because I get to have these opportunities like being a CSO. I also get the opportunity to present to younger classes and show them how things can change and how they will be in the future.

 

Wallace, Student CSO:

The CSO program has given us a greater scope to enhance engineering and analyzing skills. We did three action plans. I enjoyed all of them, but my favorite STEMonstration was teaching 4th grade the Engineering and Designing Process [EDP]. It was fun to interact with the fourth graders. They were all enthusiastic and ready to jump in working with the designing process. The purpose of the project was to design and build the tallest tower that can stand on its own. Michael, Abigail, and I explained the steps of the engineering process in detail before we started the activity.

The materials we used for our project were only Spaghetti sticks and marshmallows. The students were given a chance to do a table talk about the engineering process before they started building their tower. The materials were not replenishable, so they really took a good 5 minutes to talk at the tables and discuss how they were going to manage the materials. The next step was to draw a blueprint. The whole class invested 10 minutes in brainstorming the shape of the structure and its contribution to hold the structure together. They drew the blueprint, and we did a quick presentation to the class. Then they started their project, which was to build the structure. All teams were given 5 minutes to build first and another 5 minutes to make any alterations if they wanted to. All the fourth graders did a fantastic job and finally we measured the towers to announce the winners. We ended our lesson by talking about the engineering process involved in building tallest buildings like Burj Khalifa, skyscrapers.

It was a fun project and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. As I said before the CSO program has given a scope to think about science in a broader perspective.

 

Michael Han, Student CSO:

Hi, I am Michael Han, the Garden Lakes CSO. We had a lot of fun doing three action plans spread out for the entire year. I would say that my favorite STEMonstration I have done is the STEAM Spirit Week. On September 18th, 2021, my CSO teammates and I thought of an amazing idea, to make a Spirit week on the days of STEAM. We discussed and decided that Monday was Science Day where people dressed as scientists or wore a space shirt. Tuesday was Technology Day: Students wore a shirt that is related to technology, like pictures of video games, computers, cars, cell phones etc. On Wednesday we had Engineering Day where they dressed like a blueprint or wore all blue. Thursday was art day where people dressed in 4 or more colors. Friday was math day. People dressed like a nerd, or wore a shirt with numbers, calculations, math formulas etc.

During spirit week at morning announcements the other two Garden Lakes CSOs and I shared some interesting facts about STEAM professions like type of job, educational qualification, universities offering courses in Arizona to pursue them and salary on each day. I learned many things during this Spirit week especially about the different STEAM professions and their salaries. The information amused me. This event was fun because this was our first action plan. Doing the events like being on the announcements was also exciting. I love Science and STEAM because it allows me to think critically to create new things. It is just so fascinating to me.

 

Jyothi Brahmandam, CSO Advisor, Garden Lakes Elementary School:

Teachers and Parents are the equity shareholders in a child’s education. I bestow to all my parents and guardians who helped me have fantastic education career experiences the past 22 years. The professional satisfaction I am having today is not possible without the contribution of the parents and guardians.

Teacher’s play a vital role in shaping the student’s future and character to conform to societal expectations, but the parents create avenues for those expectations to be practiced at home.  For example, teaching them organizational skills like creating a bin for completed assignments, a bin for parental signature documents, discarding the waste, etc. Parents’ involvement in PTA (Parent Teacher association) activities and fundraisers make the students more accountable for their contribution to the school activities and academics.

The parent-teacher conferences are junctions for the student’s academic growth. It is the place where the parents, students and teachers amalgamate strategies for the academic growth of the kids. Parent’s support in a student’s homework, discussion about the day’s work and goal setting for the benchmark assessments motivates the students to work towards their goals. This also helps students stay on track.

Parents’ support at home in various aspects is vital, like checking or helping in homework, checking on day to day activities, preparing the kids for their tests, taking care of nutritional needs and sleep cycles, and helping the student grow in respect and responsibility towards their learning.

Being a mom of two kids I am empathetic with all the parents and guardians, and I salute all for keeping up with so many roles that help our kids.

Kids love to learn through doing! Whether through STEMonstrations like these, or by implementing different kinds of action plans, students are learning life and STEM skills through the CSO program. To find out if there is a CSO program at your school (and if not, to start one!), visit ChiefScienceOfficers.org.

Submitted by Claire LaBeaux, Communications Director for the Chief Science Officers International, a program of the SciTech Institute. LeBeaux shares the benefits and impacts of the CSO program with leaders and innovators around the world, and she coaches student Chief Science Officers on engaging peers to pursue STEM education, as well as communicating with education administrators and regional and national policymakers.

 

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