July 5, 2012 in Washington Voices

STEM is hands-on fun

By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Lauren Brown, 13, checks out a helium balloon during a STEM Academy summer school session on June 27 at Central Valley High School. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
(Full-size photo)

The thought of summer school could strike fear in many middle school kids, but this year’s curriculum has enough hands-on activities to keep kids entertained while they learn.

“I thought it was going to be boring, but it’s really fun,” said Naomi Dale, who will be a freshman in the fall.

The theme this year is “STEM Academy,” which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Those academic disciplines are increasingly emphasized in all levels of education because, “In 10 to 15 years, 80 percent of the jobs will involve some form of math and science,” said Brandon Deyarmin, Central Valley School District summer school principal.

At the middle school level, this means incorporating STEM into every summer school class, including language arts.

“This year it’s really more of a team effort,” Deyarmin said. For example, Jason Putz teaches science classes and Jennifer Sewell teaches language arts; the teachers focus on the same projects so that students get hands-on experience in science, then write about their work in language arts.

Some students seek out summer school to get ahead for next year, while others use it to catch up. The five-week summer school curriculum, which started last Monday, focuses on different projects each week. Last week, students worked with helium-filled Mylar balloons and added weight to make them neutrally buoyant.

“It means it’s not floating and it’s not sinking,” said Lauren Brown, who is going into the eighth grade.

Students attached a small paper cup to the balloons and added ballast – paper clips, rice and birdseed – to get their balloons to hover a certain height off the floor or table. The difference could be as much as two grains of rice.

This week, the class continued its aerospace theme by working with model aircraft. Next week, they’ll design and modify their own model aircraft.

The week after, the class moves into an engineering focus. They will work with boomerangs and spend some time learning about bridge building.

The STEM Academy isn’t just for middle school students. At the elementary school level, students are getting to hear from different speakers who work in STEM-related fields, such as an engineer and a pilot.

Melanie Rose, district spokeswoman, said 83 students registered for the four middle-school sessions. At the high school level, there are 244 students registered for classes, and the elementary program at Broadway Elementary School is full with 90 students.

After working on the neutral buoyancy project in a recent class, student Jesse Mclean said of summer school, “It’s just not how I ever expected. I thought it would be boring.”

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