Medora implements STEM initiatives at school



As students worked on catapults in Medora Community Schools’ new makerspace lab, Kara Hunt could see and hear the excitement among the students.

While they tried to figure out how many sticks were needed to provide a good spring, something one boy said stood out to her.

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“One of the kids was walking around, and he said, ‘This is so fun,’” she said.

She then realized the impact that the lab and new science, technology, engineering and math initiative will make for the school’s nearly 160 students.

“That’s just something you don’t hear a lot, and they were actually working and doing things,” said Hunt, the school’s new STEM facilitator. “That’s something good to hear when you’re in a school and kids are working.”

Before that day, Principal Austin Skutnik said a group of students was taken around the lab to check out the new space.

“Things weren’t even out of the boxes yet, and they were ‘What are we going to do with this? When can we work with this?’” she said. “Just already hearing them have that excitement and have those questions and be curious about something, I think that’s what every teacher or educator wants to hear is that genuine curiosity. It’s just a cool thing to see them get excited about.”

The makerspace lab was made possible through Medora Elementary School receiving a 1003(g) school improvement grant. The competitive grant, valued at $572,500 spread out over four years, is awarded to schools that show a strong commitment to building capacity within a school to improve teaching and learning.

The overall goal is to increase student outcomes for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

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 by the spring.

Both will addressed by building a STEM framework. The planning phase started in the spring, and equipment and tables for the lab were ordered.

A portion of the grant funding was used to hire Hunt, who is the dean of students along with being the STEM facilitator. She spent the past 10 years working for Crothersville Community School Corp., where she taught sixth-grade math and science, did some project-based learning and handled discipline and attendance.

“That really set me up to be a little more successful in this role,” Hunt said. “I had also done a lot of professional development with the teachers over technology, using data and then assessments that we have throughout the year. That’s a big part of the STEM coordinator position is me working with the teachers to prepare them to take their class in the makerspace and be successful in doing that.”

At the end of June, Hunt attended training at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech with Medora teachers Kristen Koerner, Ashley Shoemaker, Justin Coffey and Carrie Brewer. Koerner, Coffey and Brewer led a weeklong STEM camp and a STEM academy this summer for students.

The four-day training at the STEM-certified school focused on project-based learning.

“We just learned about the different components and how to make up a project-based lesson plan for an extended unit,” Hunt said.

Hunt then helped set up the 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.

The lab has seven tables, including two collaboration tables with television screens so students can hook up a laptop computer to work on projects together. There also are two three-dimensional printers, and a college professor recently visited the school to train students how to use them.

Other equipment and supplies, including a laser cutter and two robotics tables, will be added to the lab, Hunt said.

“We want them to be making things and building things and tinkering to make things better,” she said. “We think that that’s the jobs of the future. There are statistics that show that STEM-based jobs are growing by 17 percent a year compared to others that are only growing by about 9 percent, so we feel like this is really preparing our students for the future and to be successful.”

For students beyond high school, Hunt said success in today’s world isn’t necessarily about what you know but what you can do with that knowledge.

“We want our students to be equipped with skills to be able to make sense of information, to be able to evaluate evidence, and we want them to be critical thinkers,” she said. “Those are the types of skills that they are getting from STEM, and that will help prepare them for the 21st century workplace.”

Hunt is working with the teachers to build STEM activities into their curriculum maps and the standards they are teaching.

Medora’s Reach for a Star after-school program also is getting in on the STEM initiative. Coordinator Shannon Hunsucker said there will be weekly STEM activities, and STEM concepts will weaved into most other activities.

From 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, the after-school program is hosting STEAM Family Night, where students will rotate through various science, technology, engineering, art and math stations.

A robotics club also will be offered through the program this school year.

“Students will be nominated by teachers to participate and will be selected for participation from there,” Hunsucker said. “Students will be in teams of two or three and will use the VEX Robotics kits to build their robots. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in competitions.”

An ELITE program is being established at Medora, too. The extended-day program for students in grades 3 through 6 starts Sept. 5 and will be led by Koerner and Brewer. It focuses on project-based learning.

“It’s an enrichment as well as a remediation program and is really more individualized for the students where those teachers are in touch with the normal classroom teachers figuring out which skills they need, either some extra help or where they can extend their learning,” Skutnik said.

Sometime this school year, state officials will analyze the rubric and visit Medora to check out the STEM initiative.

“What I like about the rubric and the process is there’s no faking it,” Skutnik said. “There’s no putting on a show for the state. You have to prove that you have true STEM integration throughout all of your curriculum. It really becomes part of your culture. … We’re not putting on a STEM show. This is something that is going to be entwined in everything that we do here. It’s a true STEM framework.”

Medora’s goal is to become Jackson County’s first school to be Indiana Department of Education STEM-certified.

“There’s an application process we would go through and a rubric,” Hunt said. “Our goal is to work on that this year and then sometime next year to receive that certification.”

Skutnik hopes all of the offerings will prevent attendance issues at Medora and maybe even boost enrollment.

She said incorporating the 21st century skills gives kids opportunities to tinker, question, learn how to fail in a safe environment and make corrections based off of that failure, which all builds grit.

“I think that if we can build gritty kids here at Medora, that is going to not only impact our school culture, but it’s going to set them up to be successful when they leave here,” she said. “That translates not just to college and career, but that’s relationships, that collaborative piece, being able to really work with another student or a group of students. I think that’s going to be what eventually sets our kids apart.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: STEAM Family Night

When: 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Medora Community Schools, 82 S. George St., Medora

Who: The Reach for a Star after-school program invites parents and students to attend the event, where they will rotate through various science, technology, engineering, art and math stations

Information: 812-966-2201


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