Huddled around tables, third grade students at Pleasant Crossing Elementary school quickly worked to construct houses out of two pieces of paper using scissors, glue and tape.
Since last fall, every elementary student in the Clark-Pleasant Community Schools has spent about 40 minutes a week in a new class focused on science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM. The goal of the new classes: less talking and more doing, using a variety of hands-on projects and activities, Pleasant Crossing STEM instructor Melissa Buteau said.
Problem solving and innovation are essential life skills for students, and being able focus on teaching those abilities from an early age is essential, Pleasant Crossing principal Terry Magnuson said.
Working with a class of third grade students this week, Buteau quickly ran through the instructions for their assignment. The students had to build a house with at least two rooms inside using two sheets of paper, scissors, tape and glue to create the frame of the house, and markers and colored pencils to draw in rooms and furniture.
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After brief instructions, the students raced off to grab the supplies. A few students started cutting their pieces of paper immediately, while others took time to measure and plan out where bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms would go.
Some modeled the house after parts of their owns homes, complete with toy boxes in their bedrooms. Others added details such as yards or chimneys.
The purpose of the lesson was to teach creativity and resourcefulness by having the students work on the project with a limited set of supplies, Buteau said.
Some projects are done individually, such as the houses, while others will be done either in small groups or with the entire class, she said.
One group project involved a scenario where the students had to set up a series of pulleys and levers to rescue a trapped animal, shes said.
In the past year, students have studied everything from basic computer coding to erosion, where they did experiments with sand, water and wind, Buteau said.
The robotics lessons were student Aiden Vargo’s favorites.
Ava Courtney said she enjoyed coming to the STEM classes because she likes to be able to make things.
STEM instructors from each elementary school meet to discuss what projects they are using for their students and share ideas about what they think works best, Buteau said.
The goal of the classes it to focus on the process of learning, not whether a student can answer the right questions on a quiz, she said.
“Some kids who struggle in class do really well in STEM,” Buteau said.
Other school districts in Johnson County, such as Center Grove, have also recently added stem classes. At Center Grove, instead of having short weekly lessons, each class gets a lengthier trip trip to the school’s STEM lab at least once per school year.