29 Apr New Plan to Engineer Early Interest in STEM in Missouri
Nine school districts throughout Missouri now offer Project Lead The Way curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade.
AFFTON, Mo. (AP) – The lesson started with the classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk.
But with 10 pipe cleaners, the kindergartners were about to learn a little about engineering, a career that could be in their future.
In small groups, the children set out to build their own beanstalks with the materials, trying to make it stand up on its own with no direction from the teacher.
“We’re tapping into that natural curiosity. They want to explore,” said Sandy Kettelkamp, the head Project Lead The Way teacher at Mesnier Primary.
The lesson was one of a new initiative this year in the Affton School District, an effort that brings science, technology, engineering and math programming into elementary schools.
Affton is one of nine school districts throughout Missouri that now offer Project Lead The Way curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade. Hazelwood, Ritenour, Affton and Jennings also do so in the St. Louis area.
Teachers Cheryl Ladd, left, and Sandy Kettelkamp discuss work done during a STEM education project in Affton, Mo., on April 16, 2015.
Teachers Cheryl Ladd, left, and Sandy Kettelkamp discuss work done during a STEM education project in Affton, Mo.
Project Lead The Way is an organization that provides science, technology, engineering and math curriculum and teacher training with the goal of preparing students for eventual jobs in those fields.
Most PLTW curriculum is taught in high school and middle school; this is the first year the organization has offered Launch, its programming for elementary.
The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that jobs in STEM will grow 17 percent by 2018 – nearly double the growth for non-STEM fields – and that there will be more than 1.2 million jobs without qualified workers to fill them.
Cheryl Ladd, a kindergarten teacher at Mesnier, said the biggest challenge is teaching children skills for jobs that don’t exist yet. These lessons have required more creative thinking and problem solving, she said.
“They’re thinking outside of the box and explaining their thinking,” Ladd said.
On a recent day, Kettelkamp asked the kindergartners in Ladd’s class to make a structure like a beanstalk as tall as they could out of the pipe cleaners without it falling over.
“Let’s make the roots,” said Hailey Alfonso, a kindergartner working with three other children while sitting on a in the classroom.
“I’m gonna put this one on top to attach it and make it higher,” Sahel Barekzai said.
“Yeah, do that!” Hailey said.
Other groups also came up with pipe cleaner roots spread apart like theirs to prop up their beanstalks. They twisted them together from there, while others also attached more to that base to make it taller.
“You’re like a scientist or engineer. Somebody who uses their knowledge to make things happen,” Kettelkamp told them.
The lesson and others also serve as a base of knowledge they use as they get deeper into STEM subjects in each grade.
Kindergarten students Mia Page, left, and Oliver Pisciotta join classmates at Mesnier Primary School in a STEM education project using pipe cleaners to construct replica bean stalks on April 16, 2015, in Affton, Mo.
Kindergarten students Mia Page, left, and Oliver Pisciotta join classmates at Mesnier Primary School in a STEM education project using pipe cleaners to construct replica bean stalks.
“They build on it as they go, and the kids are having fun,” she said.
Kettelkamp completed the training from Project Lead The Way and is now showing other teachers how to incorporate these types of lessons into their classrooms, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Assistant Superintendent Travis Bracht said teachers are excited to see what can happen when a child starts the curriculum in kindergarten, learning early to feel empowered to solve a problem with their own ideas, without instructions from a teacher.
In Ritenour, one of the school district’s introductions to STEM at the elementary level has been a free, after-school program. Fifth-graders from each of the district’s six elementary schools are being introduced to engineering research, principles, design process and equipment. They created robots that could function in a simulated scenario of extracting hazardous materials without endangering people.
“They see a connection to that and realize the work they are doing is part of a bigger problem. And they feel like they are contributing to a bigger world,” said Stephanie Valli, who has been coordinating the launch of Ritenour’s elementary level PLTW program.
Administrators hope to eventually make the curriculum widespread in elementary classrooms.
“We wanted to catch them as young as possible,” she said.
Story by JESSICA BOCK, St. Louis Post-Dispatch