A wet and dreary Thursday morning outside of Liberty Elementary School in Midway is a stark contrast to the activity that was buzzing inside of the school. Students and teachers spent the morning demonstrating their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program to teachers and faculty from other schools in Liberty County School System.
LES’s Principal Chris Anderson introduced the program to the group, and said that the students wanted to focus mainly on how sustainability in this area differs from the sustainability practices further inland—leading to the theme of the STEM program: Coastal Sustainable Living.
“We have expanded our program from the initial four STEM classes to 12 in 2016,” Anderson said. “Last year, we had 14 STEM teachers, and this year, we have 27 teachers, and next year, we are making the entire school staff STEM teachers, and not just those who volunteered.”
The school has STEM classes from Kindergarten to 5th grade, and have two other programs called GATE and Makerspace. Each grade has a focus, like alternative gardening, tiny sustainable gardens, composting or natural resources for sustainability.
“The GATE education is something that all students, not just STEM, are exposed to on a weekly basis,” Anderson said. “Makerspace is a spot and safe place in LES’s media center for students to explore, create and build.”
According to Anderson, it’s been a phenomenal success, and it continues to grow and evolve on a daily basis.
The tour itself was led by STEM ambassadors, like 5th grade student Mackenzie Hudson and 4th grade student Devin Kaminski. Instead of letting the teachers and adults explain the processes, the STEM program allows the students to explain what and how they’re learning.
“That’s a pre-requisite of the state certification we received,” Anderson has said. “Students give the tours and the talks. It’s a student education based program.”
Hudson and Kaminski said that in Makerspace, each student gets 20 minutes to create, and there are activities ranging from iPads to a Lego wall that encourages a 30-day building challenge.
“Each day is a different challenge that you build,” Kaminski said. “At the end, you can get a badge.”
A lot of features included within the STEM program are Skype sessions and classroom visits with industry professionals, ranging from marine biologists, meteorologists and arborists. These professionals collaborate with the students and teachers, answering the questions that students have as they develop and problem-solve these projects.
“With Skype in the classroom, it’s a world of topics,” Gifted teacher Kelly Greene said. “The kids enjoy it because they can actually talk to the scientist and ask their questions.”
Student activities ranged from constructing turkey traps in a classroom, testing the water in Aquaponics tanks, coding on computers and working with robots, to simple tasks such as face-to-face discussions or reading and comprehension.
The teachers emphasized that although the focus is STEM, they must also find time to incorporate or teach separately the standards that are tested on the GMAs (Georgia Milestone Assessments).
“My class is working on building a ‘turkey trap’,” Greene said. “I tied in math with their measurements because they have to tell me the measurements of the string they’re using or whatever materials they choose. We’ll do area and perimeter of the geometric shapes they’re using, and then there’s the math process skills that you can always tie in and refer to.”
In the 5th grade classrooms, students were constructing frames for their tiny sustainable gardens. The idea is to have small gardens in areas where people don’t have ample amount of space for large gardens, and to make the gardens mobile to protect from destructive forces, according to 5th grade STEM teacher Gina Harrell.
“We have to cover STEM standards, as well as our regular standards for GMAs,” Harrell continued. “I make them read and write about the science, and usually that plays a big part in my science. They write about what they do, they read about it, whatever it is, it pertains to what they’re learning about.”
After the tour concluded, Anderson and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) Teaching and Learning Specialist Kimberly Boucher debriefed the group and answered questions pertaining to the tour. Boucher offered advice to those who were considering implementing STEM and STEAM concepts into their respective schools.
“Expose students in small increments,” Boucher said. “In the long term, what do you want students to get out of the lesson or program? Figure that out and then work backwards to develop something that fits the need.”Boucher also emphasized that if there were any questions, she’d be happy to address those and work collaboratively with those who were looking into the process.