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South Jordan Journal

Paper, tape and pennies: Eastlake’s STEM activities engaging students

Feb 04, 2021 03:46PM ● By Julie Slama

Eastlake third-students learn how to make the Bee-bots move during their STEM rotation. (Sarah Broadbent/Eastlake Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Eastlake Elementary fourth grader Tyler Castleberry said his paper and tape bridge was tested for strength by placing pennies on it.

“It held 100 pennies, but we used lots of layers of paper and it took several tries,” he said. “We had to keep doing it to see what worked. Our first one fell apart and our second one didn’t have enough layers to support the pennies.”

That is just one of the activities he has done during a STEM rotation at school.  He also liked seeing lions and giraffes in one of the 3-D panoramic videos when he used the virtual reality googles and learned how they worked.

“We’re always learning something new,” he said, adding that one day he’d like to develop a new kind of technology to draw up plays as a basketball coach. “It would just be amazing to be able to write out plays in different ways using techniques of a technology board.” 

Eastlake Principal Suzanne Williams said that in the past year, Eastlake has “come a long way in our STEM lessons.”

Not only have they borrowed the virtual reality goggles, they’ve used their Land Trust funds to purchase and introduce Makey-Makeys, Ozobots, Spheros, Bee-bots, Little Bits, logic games and other items to the student, Williams said. 

Recently, they applied for a LiveDaybreak grant to purchase their own VR googles, a Coder Z LEGO set or STEM tables.

“This year, especially, the school needs to offer some fun learning activities because of the anxiety and stress surrounding COVID-19,” Williams said. “Kids are loving these STEM lessons and we’re getting students career and college ready. These activities may pique their interest when they build a bridge, do marble runs or any of these activities and it may result in an engineering job or a career that has yet to develop as they pursue as interests.”

They also may spark an idea that can be used in the virtual fifth- and sixth-grade science fair, she said.

The 800 in-person students are learning how to problem-solve, be creative, and work as a group when they’re in their 45-minute STEM rotations.

“It’s fun to see their excitement and how they’re not afraid to get involved and try again if something doesn’t work the first time, which is an invaluable tool,” Williams said.

Williams credits her 25-hour per week instructor, Sarah Broadbent, for expanding the program.

“As the world goes more technology-based, it’s important that students know the basis and are able to apply it to their future careers,” Broadbent said. “It’s rewarding to see kids reach to technology, coding, and STEM activities. It’s important to bring in all aspects, to solve problems in creative ways and to think outside the box.”

For example, with Makey-Makeys, Broadbent not only let them experiment, but made sure they understood why they worked. She taught them about simple circuits and how they needed to complete the circuit. They also learned about short circuits, LEDs and polarity through putting their circuits together and testing them.

Through the activity, they learned how to troubleshoot if it didn’t initially work. Students asked themselves if the positive circuit trace ever came in contact with the negative circuit trace or to make sure they didn’t ever touch when they made their battery connections.

Tyler’s 6th-grade sister, Grace, said she hooked the wires and made sounds using electricity.

“It’s really cool and I could make it play the piano, the bongos and flappy bird,” she said. “I could use different tools like a nail, paperclip, tinfoil and playdough. Maybe if I become a computer scientist or ophthalmologist, knowing some things from the STEM activities would be really helpful. I want to be an interior designer so I can learn how to measure the space and items I’d use to decorate. By knowing about electricity, it would be helpful to know where to put things for the best lighting and the maximum light I could use.”

Younger students were challenged with other STEM activities like Bee-Bots. Bee-Bots are table-top robots that actually look like bees that can be programmed to move forward and back and turn left and right by pressing the corresponding arrow keys on its back. Students understand cause and effect, directional language and early programming, Broadbent said.

For second-grader Scarlett Seamons, it’s fun.

“I can make it move left or right, forward or backward,” she said. “Backwards is my favorite. If it were on the ground, it could follow my teacher.”

Scarlett also liked playing the circuit maze game that uses three different colors that makes them glow and has a robot that follows the code.

“We made a unicorn robot, but it didn’t work so we had to do it two or three times or five until it did,” she said. “We were problem-solving.”

Her mother, Meg, pointed out that Scarlett has applied it to real life as she was making gluten-free cookies.

“The recipe doesn’t always work even when she follows the ingredients and directions, so she has learned to keep trying to see what will work and why it didn’t the first time,” she said, adding that she appreciates what they’re learning at school. “We immerse STEM in our home with what they’re doing or with their toys and games that are fun, but educational so they learn how things work and why or why they don’t.”

Scarlett’s brother, Oliver, is a fourth grader who liked making his Ozobot spin like a tornado as it followed colors on a dotted line he created.

“I made a color code it can follow and move how I want it to,” he said. “I’d like to code more and be able to tutor in coding, math or division and multiplication.”