Northwood Middle School in the Mead School District has won a $20,000 STEM Lighthouse grant from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The money is being used to lease four Flexcarts from Spokane-based company Flexhibit. The STEM carts are usually sold to places like Mobius and leasing them makes them more affordable, said Doug Edmonson, executive director of technology services.
“Their carts are $20,000 each, which is ridiculously expensive,” Edmonson said.
The carts all do different things. One simulates earthquakes, another is a circuitry table, another uses air pressure to launch student-made rockets and the fourth is a Bernoulli table, which suspends lightweight spheres in midair using air pressure.
The carts will be based at Northwood but will be used all across the district, Edmonson said. Teachers are already signing up to bring the tables to their classrooms. “They’re going to circulate throughout the entire district,” he said. “It’s making everyone better, not just the students in STEM classes.”
The carts will also spend time in elementary school libraries, where the district has been working to add STEM components, Edmonson said.
Part of the grant is making Northwood a lighthouse, a place where other districts and middle schools can visit to get ideas about what to do to increase STEM opportunities where they are. “As a building they have the spotlight on them across the state,” he said.
Edmonson said he’s been working with Flexhibit for months to work out a discounted deal on the carts. As part of the arrangement the district has been designated a research and development site for the company. “Any new carts they get we get to test out first,” he said.
Edmonson said he wrote the grant because the district has been working hard for the past three years to establish itself as a STEM-based education center. That included the creation of Riverpoint Academy, a project based STEM school, but Edmonson said the district wanted to spread the STEM focus to all its schools, and not just during class.
“In our district we do a great job during the school day, but we don’t do a great job in the summer or after school,” he said.
Three years ago he launched a summer STEM academy. The first year 180 students attended the three weeks of classes. Parents had been asking for more of a focus on STEM, Edmonson said. “Our community was ecstatic,” he said.
The summer STEM academy has continued to grow, attracting 380 students this summer. Edmonson expects the academy to max out next year at around 480 students.
The district also hosts several STEM events during the school year. The most recent one, a medical mystery night, brought parents and students to Washington State University-Spokane.
The new Flexcarts are part of that push, Edmonson said. The district uses them for “brain breaks,” and they are also used in classes so students can get hands-on learning. The students are enjoying the new carts, he said.
“They love them,” he said.
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