Over 25 years ago, the Mason City School District became the first district in Ohio to offer science lab as a special in its elementary schools. Today, those science labs have evolved into Innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Learning Centers that are inspiring the next generation of coders, engineers and scientists.
"I love that we get the opportunity to have STEM lab, because I really want to be an engineer when I grow up. I really like to build things and use robotics and I just think that’s really fun. That’s why I love doing STEM labs on Fridays. Every time I walk into STEM lab I am just ready to start because I love doing it!" explained Malia Requejo, a Western Row Elementary third grader, during a presentation to the Mason City School Board about the STEM Learning Centers.
The Centers were supported with a $25,000 grant from the Mason Schools Foundation, and impact more than 2,100 first, second and third graders at the Mason Early Childhood Center and Western Row Elementary during the 2015-2016 school year.
“The STEM Learning Centers started off as a bit of a dream and conversation filled with excitement and enthusiasm. In Mason we want to continue to provide innovative learning experiences for our kids,” said MCS Innovative Learning Officer Jonathan Cooper.
A team of teachers, lead learning coaches, technology team members and district administrators worked collaboratively to build this shared vision of bringing together the organic integration of 21st century learning tools, best in class STEM curriculum, and an innovative approach to the classroom learning community. Providing this type of STEM experience to students during their earliest stages builds a foundation of exploration, autonomy, risk taking, creativity and problem solving.
Each Stem Center is equipped with a combination of tools that support the innovative STEM curriculum, and include the most updated relevant technology tools to support the learning. In the first year, the centers have been equipped with iPads, Chromebooks, and additional technology in a newly designed innovative learning space.
“It was a very exciting time as we were trying to incorporate more science [with Science Lab] into our classrooms to do experiments, but sometimes the resources just weren’t there. The Stem Centers offer a variety of things for the students to experiment with and provides opportunities for exploration. We were also one of the first elementary schools in the state to be able to put together an elementary STEM lab. It was an innovative approach to try and increase the rigor and the learning that was going on in the classroom,” added MECC principal Melissa Bly.
The Stem Centers are used daily as part of the students’ schedule. Students enthusiastically anticipate the chance to collaborate and learn in the new learning spaces. Mobile furniture, which allows for easy collaboration between students, combined with wireless devices enable real-time communication, self-guided discovery, and educational resources that extend beyond the classroom.
“I’ve been in the science lab for thirteen years, and I would say in those years I’ve had maybe 90-95 percent engagement, and I thought that was great, but with the STEM centers it is 100 percent engagement. Every single kid is there learning and engaging and talking to each other and collaborating,” said Western Row third grade teacher Karen Vome. “I think the biggest reason is that it’s personalized. The kids are calling the shots and deciding whether they want to do it this way, or do it that way, and they’re invested.”
The STEM experience allows students to apply critical thinking strategies toward solving real world problems. STEM learning not only develops student academic prowess, it also builds leadership and a strong sense of citizenship.
“As our learning standards have changed again, we see a lot more with problem solving, collaborative thinking, and trying to incorporate more of the technology, math and engineering side and that’s what led us to start talking about STEM lab. What we have already seen this year is the opportunity for kids to collaborate and really own their learning,” said Bly.
The district's elementary STEM learning Center teachers, Kim Peters (second grade), Shannon Sterle (first grade) and Vome (third grade) actively encourage their students' families to engage in STEM learning at home, too. Check out the teachers' Twitter: @MCSStem123.