School aims to grow future engineers and computer scientists in STEM lab

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Students from Laura Levy's first-grade class evaluate mortar samples in Kevin Jarrett's STEM lab as part of a lesson on materials engineering Thursday, Jan. 31./Suzanne Marino Students from Laura Levy's first-grade class evaluate mortar samples in Kevin Jarrett's STEM lab as part of a lesson on materials engineering Thursday, Jan. 31./Suzanne Marino  NORTHFIELD – At the Northfield Community School, teachers have gone way past just integrating science, engineering, technology and math to meet the core content standards outlined by the state. “We are really excited with STEM and incorporating the principles in every class,” said Elementary School Principal Maureen Vaccaro.

Technology teacher Kevin Jarrett, who runs the STEM lab, has his students working on projects that call on math and engineering skills to solve problems.

Second-grade students work on coding and learn the basic steps involved in creating movement in robotics, and they can use that knowledge to understand how the movements are created in video games.

“It’s not enough for our kids to just sit back passively and play a video game,” Vaccaro said. “We want them to question how that movement occurs.”

Jarrett explained that he has kids as young as 7 using Lego software that shows them how to create movement by coding. “The kids are very visual learners, so building models, seeing how it works lets them really understand it,” he said. “It helps them to incorporate higher-order problem-solving skills.”

His first-graders stopped in the lab to check out their latest task, which involves finding the best mortar for a project they are working on.

They had first read a story in their language arts class about building a wall in a garden. Now they have to determine which is the best material to build that wall by trying two different compounds and gluing together ceramic tiles.

“They have to incorporate engineering and construction principles to arrive at the proper adhesive to use, and they are pretty excited about it,” Jarrett said.

Third-graders are using wind power, fans and a motor to lift metal washers.

“This is an exciting time for our students,” Vaccaro noted.

Students are designing things at home with their parents and bringing them in to be printed in the STEM lab’s 3-D printer.

“Kids are so excited about the 3-D printer. They are working together with parents outside of school to design things, and the opportunity to see those things that were just a drawing on paper is awesome,” Jarrett said.  “I get these kids for 42 minutes a week. I need to make what we do in this classroom so compelling that they might do some of this work with their family members at home. In that case, they win and I win.”

The district received the two 3-D printers through a grant that Jarrett said he applied for within a few hours of it being posted. The district is also using social media and putting lessons on Facebook each week so parents can see what is going on at school.

At the Jan. 27 Northfield Board of Education meeting, Vaccaro played a video she narrates about the STEM initiatives and other projects going on in the elementary level classrooms.

The video is posted on the district website, and she encourages parents to see what is going on in their children’s classrooms. It can also be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqHzaGGkGEA.

 See second-graders coding and creating movements for their Lego boats at www.flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/10963430366/.

School aims to grow future engineers and computer scientists in STEM lab


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