STEM activities designed to engage Medora students in summer



Learning shouldn’t stop in the summer.

That’s the way Medora Elementary School officials see it, so they are giving students a couple of opportunities to keep their minds stimulated.

The first one was a weeklong STEM Camp earlier this month in which third- through sixth-graders applied science, technology, engineering and math into making a biome or an ecosystem diorama and creating a PowerPoint presentation.

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The second one will be the Medora Elementary Summer STEM Academy, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday July 9 to 26. Third- through sixth-graders will participate in fun learning activities and STEM activities and receive extra support in particular content areas.

Even though only five students attended the STEM Camp, the hope is that they will tell their friends how fun it was, and they will want to be involved in the academy.

“Even if they missed (the camp), they still have a chance to jump in at the STEM Academy,” said Carrie Brewer, the preschool and kindergarten teacher at Medora who helped with the STEM Camp and will lead the academy with fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Kristen Koerner.

These opportunities are being made possible through the school receiving a 1003(g) school improvement grant, which is awarded to schools that show a strong commitment to building capacity within a school to improve teaching and learning. The grant is for $572,500 spread out over four years.

The overall goal of the grant is to increase student outcomes for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, Principal Austin Absher said.

In the school’s improvement plan, one goal is to show a 5 percent increase in both the English/language arts and math achievements on the ISTEP+ test. Another goal is for student attendance for the lowest 7 percent of students to improve at least 2 percent.

Both are being addressed by building a STEM framework. The revised curriculum will incorporate student engagement, high expectations and collaboration and ultimately give students multiple opportunities to enhance their experience of learning at school, Absher said.

One of the first steps was the STEM Camp, led by Brewer, Koerner and junior-senior high school social studies teacher Justin Coffey.

They thought creating the dioramas was a good way to incorporate all four elements of STEM.

The science part involved learning about plant and animal science, which some of the students may not have learned in school yet.

Technology was incorporated by using a computer or a laptop to learn how to search on Google and create a presentation.

“We’re trying to show them more of the educational side of technology,” Coffey said.

Students learned about engineering by using items they found around the school to construct their dioramas, and math was used to measure their materials.

“That’s the beauty of STEM. It’s pretty easy to get everyone involved in it,” Coffey said.

On the last day of the camp, the teachers and students took a field trip to WonderLab in Bloomington.

Fourth-grader Jackson Kelley said he liked the camp because he got to choose his own content for the diorama. That allowed him to learn more about the ocean and the animals that live in it.

“I like to be here because one of my friends is here, it’s fun, all of the teachers are nice and I get to get on the computer and do research about animals,” he said.

Third-grader Faxon Phillips learned more about the desert and animals that live there.

“I like the desert because all of the plants are special because they can live, and all of the animals that are in the desert are cool,” he said. “I figured out a new species that I didn’t know, the dingo.”

The teachers hoped the kids discovered learning can be fun.

“There are more ways than just lectures and worksheets,” Koerner said.

“Hopefully, they can take the experience from this camp and take it back to their classmates and talk about how fun this week was,” Coffey said. “Hopefully, it gets the rest of the school excited about STEM.”

The three-week academy will be voluntary for third- through sixth-graders who want to continue learning in the summer, but it’s required for those who have to retake the IREAD test. Students will be provided with free lunch and snacks, and transportation will be available if needed.

Brewer said activities will include building an electrical circuit, applying technology and doing a lot more math.

Another way the school is enhancing STEM education is setting up a makerspace lab, which is space dedicated to hands-on learning that allows students to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, build and create.

A portion of the grant funding was used to hire a new STEM facilitator, Kara Hunt. Part of her job will be to set up the lab.

It will be primarily used by the elementary, but the rest of the school could benefit from it, Coffey said.

“We feel it’s going to be state-of-the-art,” he said. “We know it’s going to be cool.”

Koerner said a couple of students at the camp said they liked the hands-on activities, and they will get to do that in the lab, too.

“I think it’s going to be a lot more engaging for them, so they are going to want to do more things with it,” she said. “It’s not lecturing boring. It’s hands-on.”

Brewer said one of the goals is to be schoolwide STEM certified in a couple of years.

Absher said a report from Change the Equation found Indiana is in desperate need of providing students with STEM-focused teaching and learning. The organization also reported demand for STEM-related jobs will be twice as high between 2017 and 2027.

The camp, academy and lab are steps in the right direction.

“I think they are definitely more interested in it, and I like it because they get to learn skills that they can actually use,” Coffey said of STEM. “Like using computers, using technology, that’s going to be a big deal from here on out, so being able to use it effectively and all of that is going to be good.”

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What: Medora Elementary Summer STEM Academy

When: 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday July 9 to 26

Where: Medora Elementary School, 82 S. George St., Medora

Who: Open to third- through sixth-graders

Cost: Free; lunch and snacks will be provided, and transportation will be available if needed

Sign up: Call 812-966-2201


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