BEDFORD – Have you heard of the STEM classrooms in some of our area schools? STEM stands for (S) Science, (T) Technology, (E) Engineering, and (M) Math. It takes $25,000 to obtain all of the equipment and supplies necessary for one of these classrooms, but the hands-on experience and education it offers our young children is worth every penny.
To date, the United Way of South Central Indiana has been able to provide funding for four of these STEM classrooms – two in Lawrence County and two in Orange County. United Way Community Coordinator Michelle Hardman had the privilege recently to spend some time at Lincoln Elementary School with Mrs. Jamie Hooten’s class in their Maker Space Lab, to see what they have accomplished so far.
“Teachers can reserve as much time for their students as they want without being confined to a set amount of time each day or week,” said Hardman. “They may use more time one month over another if there’s a project or experience in the Maker Space that reinforces a specific topic they’re covering in their regular class studies.”
The day Hardman stopped by, the kids were working with 3D Doodle Pens. A 3D Doodle Pen is a cordless, handheld tool similar to a Dremel that can be loaded with plastic sticks in an array of different colors. Each student got to choose which color they wanted to use, then chose which shape they wanted to work with. The choices were eyeglasses, butterflies, a starfish, and animals.
Once finished, the eyeglasses could be worn by the students, and the starfishes and butterflies offered students the opportunity to attach a magnet to the back.
“It was so nice to watch the kids get to be creative, make their own choices, and work together helping each other,” said Hardman.
Another cool piece of equipment that Lincoln Elementary School’s Maker Space has are three, 3D Printers. These are fairly small and don’t take up much space, and can be quickly and easily programmed through a computer to make all sorts of cool objects. Various colors of plastic spools are loaded into the side of the printer and it’s all set to take off.
One of the ways Mrs. Hooten showed how these printers worked included a custom keychain with the option to engrave a name or have the name raised on the product. It takes about 50 minutes to print one of these and builds on the possibilities for students on how they can use this equipment.
When asked what Mrs. Hooten liked the most about the Maker Space room, she said it was the fact that it gives the students options when learning and lets them make their own choices on some of the things they are working on.
“This is an exciting room for the kids,” Hooten said. “If I say, ‘Ok, let’s take out our math books and work on a lesson,’ there are some students that won’t want to participate. But if I say ‘Let’s go over to the Maker Space room’ – they ALL want to do that. I can see why the kids love everything we do in there because it’s not all pencil and paper stuff it’s hands-on learning.”
Hardman got to talk one-on-one with some of the students and asked what they enjoyed most about the room. Some of them repeated what Mrs. Hooten had said about them having different options in there.
A couple of the students then shared some of the other fun projects they’ve done, such as making ornaments at Christmas using a circuit machine, masks with phrases and sayings of their choice printed on them, and they have even made t-shirts with wording and images on the front.
A couple of the students then talked about how they like the gardening and hydroponics projects where they get to plant vegetables and watch the whole growing process. Hardman asked if they had then planted things at home after learning how to do it in the Maker Space room and they excitedly said ‘yes’, and then listed off all the things they’re now growing at home. Hardman said it warmed her heart to see the enthusiasm in these kids about learning new skills.
“All of these things we’re exposing third-grade kids which are going to have a major impact on their future and their careers,” Hardman said. “We owe it to our communities to continue adding more of these rooms so that there’s a STEM classroom in each elementary school in both counties we serve at the United Way of South Central Indiana. If you ever get the opportunity to visit one and see the curiosity and excitement that’s abundant there, you’ll want to get involved too.”
Information: Michele Hardman – Community Outreach and Marketing Director