September 29, 2012 in Washington Voices

Picking up STEAM

Students select classes that interest them
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

From left, Rachel Ratautas, Aaron Constantine, Shontelle Belback and Mahogany Howard play a game of bridge in one of the breakout sessions Wednesday at East Farms Elementary in Otis Orchards.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Follow along

This school year, we will spend two days a month at East Farms STEAM Magnet School in the East Valley School District as it makes the transition from a traditional K-5 elementary school to a STEAM Magnet School serving students through the seventh grade. Next school year, the transformation will be complete as each elementary school will be K-8, with middle-schoolers traveling to the Middle Level Learning Center in the afternoons.

Taking apart a gas engine and putting it back together in an hour isn’t something fifth- and sixth-graders normally do at school, but at East Farms STEAM Magnet school this week, many of them had the chance.

“Can’t I screw something on now?” one of the students asked parent volunteer Robert Thomas.

The class was one of many offered to the students Wednesday during East Farms first STEAM day. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. While many schools are emphasizing STEM, Principal Tammy Fuller said research into other STEM programs revealed that students involved in the arts usually feel left out.

“They said, ‘Do not just do STEM. You’ve got to have the arts in there,’ ” Fuller said.

Students had two sessions of STEAM classes. They had signed up for classes that interested them the day before.

There was a Stomp class, where students drummed on overturned buckets and wheel rims.

Naiomi Walker, a sixth-grader, said at lunch she was really looking forward to this class, since it was going to be taught by her teacher from last year, Celeste Simone.

“It’s like this big music class,” she said when asked to describe it.

There was a class to emphasize math skills by learning to play bridge. In the computer lab, students learned how to draw tessellations using a graphic design program.

Sixth-grade teacher Jacqui Peterson said she really enjoyed seeing students who may struggle in other classes excel when they tried something they like.

Chris Russell’s class was learning how to make homemade root beer using dry ice to carbonate the water. Students worked in teams mixing water, sugar and extract before Russell added dry ice to their buckets. Russell told them to stir up the mixture to break down the dry ice before they put a lid on their buckets.

“You’re going to let it burp once in a while,” he said, warning them not to keep the lid down for too long.

There were classes in blanket-making and solar energy, and how to turn paper into pencil boxes and quilts.

Fuller led the solar class, teaching students how to make a solar-powered cooker using pizza boxes. She gave them an assignment to take the cookers home and make s’mores. She also encouraged them to improve on the design she gave them.

Teachers picked their own subjects to teach.

“Teachers thought about what they like to do,” Fuller said.

Other STEAM days are planned for October and January. Some of the same classes will be offered, as well as some new ones.

Fuller said the STEAM day is funded through the building’s budget for now, but she will be writing grants to get more funds in the future.

“We couldn’t wait for the grants,” she said.

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