Mobile STEM lab stops at Mount Ulla Elementary School

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 29, 2012

MOUNT ULLA — Students at Mount Ulla Elementary marveled at the sights that surrounded them as they climbed aboard the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s mobile STEM exploration lab Wednesday.
They pointed out brightly colored safety goggles that hung from the sides of the bus and gasped when they realized they’d be using iPads.
“It was really different, I liked it a lot,” said second-grader Lucas Graham.
The district rolled out the mobile STEM lab at the end of September. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The bus travels to elementary schools throughout the county, giving students a chance to participate in hands-on activities and conduct experiments with the use of tools they might not have exposure to in a typical classroom setting.
“It’s a field trip on wheels that comes to them, so that we’re not busing students to another location,” said Amy Pruitt, the teacher for the mobile classroom.
Pruitt creates the lessons using the district’s curriculum maps that are tied to state standards. She also drives the bus, which has already made stops at Woodleaf and Hurley.
Upon arriving at each school, she meets with teachers to brief them on the lessons she’s put together.
Every class from each school has a designated time to visit the bus.
Pruitt and each classroom teacher conduct lessons at two stations, while students work independently with iPads at the third.
“The whole purpose of this lab is to support the classroom,” Pruitt said. “It may be a review of a science skill they have already covered or an introduction, depending on when I arrive during the quarter.”
Although many teachers are already incorporating STEM initiatives into their classrooms, Pruitt said the mobile lab provides a unique experience.
“We’re kind of co-teaching and the students see the material in a different way with different equipment,” she said.
Young students spend between 30 to 45 minutes on the bus, while those in third through fifth grades are treated to a 90-minute session.
Pruitt said one thing is the same at every school she visits.
“You can see the excitement,” she said. “They get to touch, they get to experiment, they’re in charge. It makes them love learning.”
Second-graders at Mount Ulla Elementary learned about the properties of matter Wednesday.
Pruitt demonstrated how liquids take the shape of the container they are in, but remain the same volume by pouring equal parts water into both a short, round beaker and tall graduated cylinder.
Teacher DeAnna Cloninger related the topic it to everyday life by talking about how precipitation changes state as air temperatures rise and fall.
Students also got what Pruitt calls a “brain break” to play the water physics game “Where’s My Water” on iPads.
Second-grader Jaritzi Elorza said she enjoyed being on the bus Wednesday.
“I really like science, I wish we got to do more things like this in my class,” she said.
The learning doesn’t end when students get off the bus. Pruitt sends them home with an activity to do with their parents.
Koontz Elementary will be Pruitt’s final stop before the winter break. She expects to make it to about a dozen schools this year and hopes to do some summer enrichments programs.

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.