STEM in focus: More than 1,000 show up for science fair

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 22, 2012

SALISBURY – Morgan Elementary student Eva McManus might only be 9 years old, but her parents are hoping she’ll catch the science bug early.
“We’re really trying hard to get her interested in biotechnology because I think that’s the future,” said her mother Dana, who has a degree in biotechnology.
That’s why the family was happy to attend the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s first STEM Matters showcase Saturday.
“It shows science is fun,” Dana said. “It’s not just for dorks anymore.”
More than 1,100 people turned out for the event at Knox Middle School and Horizons Unlimited to see how the district is using innovative ways to teach science, technology, engineering and math.
Thirty-seven classrooms, staffed by teachers and students, were set up to demonstrate the hands-on approaches used throughout the district.
Inside the classrooms
Renee Cunningham, Knox’s media coordinator, had a camera and teleprompter set up in the library so that students could see what it’s like to anchor a news broadcast.
“It’s another everyday application of technology,” she said. “And it’s really a job that kids can see themselves being part of in the future.”
Cunningham said the students at the school lead a new show each morning, broadcasting on closed circuit television throughout the school.
“They really learn that the job isn’t just on camera, it’s also behind the scenes,” she said.
Inside Becca Glenn’s classroom, seventh-grader Christion Burns saw how engineering principles were applied to build working robotic cars using Legos.
“This is pretty fun,” he said.
Glenn said creating the robotics requires students to use not only engineering skills, but math to measure out each element and technology to power it up.
Shive Elementary kindergartner Nellie Smith, 5, watched in awe as she operated the robotics.
Joana Sauve-Smith, Nellie’s mother and a sixth-grade middle school teacher at Knox, said she was impressed by the real life STEM applications on display Saturday.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot today from what I’ve seen.”
Amie Williams, a social studies teacher at Carson High School, had four students with her to show how they are using iPads in the classroom. One of the features they showed off was Evernote, a free application that allows students to take notes.
“In my class, you’re not going to go to Walmart to get a notebook and dividers,” she said. “All of notes are in the (Internet) cloud.”
Heaven Roger, a sophomore at Carson, said she always expected to use paper and pencil to take notes, but she’s enjoyed the switch to using a tablet.
“I’m so much more organized this way,” she said. “You can also add photos and maps to your notes.”
Parent Robert Hartsell said he likes the idea of the Evernote app.
“The new technology would save us a lot of money on school supplies,” he said. “I’ve got four kids in school. This year we spent over $200 in supplies. That’s just for books, pencils, papers. That’s not counting uniforms.”
Hartsell said he remembers the debut of the Apple II Plus back when he was in school.
“There was one computer for the whole floor. Now I’ve got three computers at home,” he said.
That’s why he feels it’s good the district is focusing on STEM.
“The STEM program is excellent, especially considering the experience they’ve gotten today,” he said. “That’s what they’re going to do for their job.”
Seventh-grader Ethan Knorr said he wishes Knox had iPads to work on instead of iPods.
“They are a big step forward in technology,” he said. “They are so much easier to work with.”
Knorr is part of the school’s Science Olympiad program, which kicked off last year.
The group set off bottle rockets outside Saturday, to show off the types of projects they participate in at competitions.
“This makes science hands on and fun and it’s the same stuff they learn in class. It’s just done in a way that they’re going to remember it,” head coach Greg Stienbarger said. “We use every element of STEM in what we do in Science Olympiad.”
Stienbarger said he talked to a number of elementary school teachers and principals Saturday who were interested in starting the program at their school.
“I think what the festival did for us this year is gave people a place to come and experience STEM,” he said. “We’re getting people familiar with the concept that science isn’t just sitting in the classroom writing notes, we can make it fun, we can make it interesting.
“They can still learn the same thing and they don’t feel like they’re learning it because they are having such a good time.”
On the bus
The school system rolled out its mobile STEM exploration lab Saturday. The bus will travel to elementary schools throughout the county to allow students to experiment without leaving school grounds.
Marilynn Corporan brought her 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, aboard the bus.
“She’s small, but I wanted her to be able to explore these hands-on kinds of things,” she said. “I think it’s a really great thing for kids.”
Shive Elementary Principal Zebbie Bondurant said she’s excited about the mobile classroom.
“When I heard about it, I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking it would be anything this big. I figured they would unload and take things into the classroom, I didn’t realize it was something students could actually board.”
Amy Pruitt, the teacher for the mobile classroom, said she hopes to make it to at least 10 schools this year.
She’ll park the bus for about a week and work with one grade level each day.
“I try to align all of my lessons to the curriculum maps for the county so it supports the classroom either as a review or introductory activity,” she said.
Pruitt said she also tries to integrate the lessons across subject areas so parents, students and teachers can see how they connect to the real world.
“I want them to realize these are not just things they read about and hear about, they can see them in action in real life.”
Pruitt left her job a fifth-grade teacher at Enochville Elementary to hit the road.
“I think the biggest draw for me was being able to do the integrated lesson and really be an extension of the classroom,” she said. “I love the idea that the field trip comes to the school.
“I also love the idea of sparking interests and really getting all kids interested in what their career of the future may be.”
Each station on the bus will be linked to a curriculum piece from the classroom and give students an idea of what kind of career would involve that concept.
One example is the force and motion station that was set up Saturday to show students how humans hear the vibrations of sound waves. That relates to a career in audiology.
“People think if you’re going to work in a STEM field you’ll be stuck in a lab, but that’s not the case,” she said. “When you start looking at STEM careers they’re all hands on, you have to be doing and thinking through action.”
Pruitt said she views her job as building a solid foundation for students to become curious thinkers.
“I want every child that comes through here to say I want to know more. I want to know what’s next,” she said.
Lisa McCrimmon, a math teacher at North Rowan Middle, toured the bus with her 5-year-old son, Jamison, on Saturday. She was impressed with what she saw as both a parent and teacher.
“I think students learn best when they’re engaged,” she said. “I always plan some type of engagement activity in my classroom. … They retain information better that way instead of just giving them information to regurgitate.”
McCrimmon said she’s glad the district is homing in on STEM.
“Teaching math the very first question that students ask is ‘When am I going to use this?’ ” she said. “This approach shows them why it will be beneficial and motivates them to learn more.”
The mobile STEM classroom is funded by grants from the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation, Rowan Regional Medical Center and Duke Energy.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.