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Robots and Legos and STEM, oh my!

Elementary STEM Specialists lead enriched learning for all students

It’s Thursday morning and Stephanie, a 5th-grade student at Crestwood Elementary, has a skip in her step as she walks to the school’s STEM classroom, where she’ll continue working on her Lego robot. “Yeah,” Stephanie exclaims. “I get to program today!”

Historically, elementary students visit music and PE specialists every week. New this year, STEM/Computer Science specialists have been added to this rotation. More than ever before, this intentional focus exposes elementary students to 21st century skills using science, technology, engineering and math.

What does this mean for students?
Students in grades K through 5 are learning STEM and computer science concepts by diving deep into science standards and exploring things like robotics. Victor Falls students in Jeremy Martin’s STEM classes are learning about energy transfer through circuit building and understanding differences between a simple circuit versus a parallel circuit. “My students are constantly building and using their hands. They are gaining knowledge through building projects that they get to show off in class, in school and eventually take home and show off with parents.” notes Jeremy.

Sidebar: “Almost all their time in here is spent making things.” - Jeremy Martin, STEM Specialist at Victor Falls Elementary

Learning through doing and building is an important developmental step. Early learners are coding ozobots, a small toy robot that helps students learn about simple code language. By drawing lines on paper and adding color codes and more sophisticated functions for older grades, they can tell their robot what to do. Students in 4th grade will explore coding in the air with drones. They will learn how to apply basic principles of aviation mechanics and understand what it takes to make an object take and sustain flight. Through Lego robotics, students in 5th grade design, build, and code robots. By applying coding sequences they can make their robot move, perform, and even speak, a variety of tasks.

Sidebar: “When students start to get the sequencing part of programming, that’s a step in the right direction.” - Kacie Kohler, STEM Specialist at Crestwood Elementary

Skills gained in programming and coding, benefit students across the learning spectrum. Persistence, problem solving, identifying patterns, making predictions, decomposing complex problems into smaller parts, and troubleshooting (debugging), are all attributes uncovered through STEM learning. That connection that links learning - through doing - is key.

‘In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information.’
- US Department of Education

What does this mean for teachers?
STEM enriched learning does not occur simply by creating a position and naming an individual to serve as a school’s specialist. STEM/CS specialists are accomplished classroom teachers who enjoy teaching science, technology, engineering and math concepts to kids; but to be a specialist, they had to draw on other skills and proficiencies. District STEM Specialists Patti O’Malley and Aaron Tomyn serve as direct supports to building specialists, providing them with tools to be successful.

Instructional Services partners close with elementary teaching teams to ensure that STEM specialists and general education teachers have the resources they need to communicate together and collaborate on learning. This collaborative approach helps them leverage concepts and learning in both classrooms. General education teachers use similar vocabulary with students and make an intentional focus on integrating coding into core instruction for example. This collaboration makes it so students receive consistent, enriched instruction.

Sidebar: “Through certification and micro-credentials teachers and school leaders themselves become STEM learners. This, in turn, helps all types of teachers be more effective in leading STEM teaching.” - Aaron Tomyn, District STEM Specialist

The District’s 5-year STEM plan, the driving force behind STEM teaching and learning in K-12 classrooms, connects a culture of STEM to core curriculum in all District schools, elementary included. This intentional focus provides enriched learning, ignites passion for STEM and helps students make early connections to STEM careers so they can be career and college ready.

Entering her STEM classroom, Stephanie eagerly settles herself in her seat and gets ready for instruction. “Today we’re going to learn how to make our robot move,” She explains. “I’ve never done that before!”

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