As educators focus on increasing overall student achievement, there is an increasing effort to spark students’ interest in math and science. Researchers are finding that hands-on learning stimulates interest in STEM courses and offers students the opportunity to experience the excitement that comes from applying STEM principles to real-world situations. While STEM courses can be viewed as difficult or tedious to complete, engaging in hands-on learning activities provides opportunities to break traditional thinking and demonstrate to students just how fun and rewarding challenging endeavors are.
A school in Eagan, Minnesota recently invested in a STEAM Lab that focuses on the exploration of science, technology, engineering, art and math. Equipped with state of the art machinery, students are able to use 3-D printers and laser etchers to create and modify objects they’ve dreamt up on paper.
In September, the Eagan science magnet school will open a new laboratory that combines the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. The “STEAM room” will allow students to create objects using new tools, such as a 3-D printer and laser etcher, when exploring scientific concepts.
“We already do a good job with hands-on learning,” said Principal Jeff Holten. “We teach in a demonstrational way, and this is the next step.”
The new tools amazed fifth-graders Zach Wollak and Jane Vasterling. They used the etcher to carve a Vikings logo and built small trinkets with the 3-D printer.
“The first time I used the laser, a tiny little fire was behind the light,” Jane said. “It was cool.”
Jill Jensen, the school’s science specialist, said these are unique learning tools because they allow students to create something they envision.
“There is a lot of underlying learning in making something in your mind a reality,” Jensen said.
That type of creative learning means science specialists like Jensen will be working more closely with art teachers like Erin Paulson. Paulson was pleased to see her school pairing art and science education to encourage creative thinking.
“It was refreshing,” said Paulson, who noted that many school districts struggle to provide art education when budgets get tight. “To see it again becoming essential for kids is very exciting.”
The tools are becoming more popular in Twin Cities schools and in classrooms around the globe. They are championed by researchers at Stanford University who believe putting low-cost technology in the hands of students can transform how they learn about their increasingly digital world.
Glacier Hills is one of the first elementary schools in the east metro to use the equipment typically reserved for middle and high schools.
Nicole Frovik, who coordinates the school’s magnet program, raised money through grants and parent donations to purchase the equipment. Some people were skeptical elementary school students could benefit from such advanced tools, Frovik said.
“We’re proving them wrong,” she added.
The new tools were a big hit at a recent family science night. Families will be an important part of the new STEAM room when it opens. Volunteers will help staff the lab, and it will eventually be open to residents outside of the school day.
“Our vision is for the whole school to come in and create a project,” Jensen said. “This is the future of where science education is going.”