Taken from Belleville News-Democrat
BY MARY COOLEY
STEM learning — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — is far from copying complicated formulas from a chalkboard. Students have to be able to take the classroom concepts and apply it to their future real world, educators say, and that takes practice. The kind of practice that comes only in a STEM lab.
“There’s certain skills (still necessary) — you have to know three times three is nine — but when you leave, do you know how to apply those same skills?” said Principal Skip Birdsong, of St. Teresa. “We all know someone who’s really book smart, but ... that’s what’s missing, they don’t know how to apply what’s in those books.”
St. Teresa, Blessed Sacrament and St. Clare Catholic schools are pumping up their STEM programs and facilities in order to better serve their students’ futures. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville provides the assist, giving schools across the state access to its 3D printers, robotics kits and more.
SIUE’s Colin Wilson, the Resource Center’s manager, says a big part of its mission is to make it “easy for schools to do new STEM.”
“This part of Illinois, we do have Boeing, we do have a lot of technology companies in the area, growing (STEM learning) will only help the community and institutions in general,” he said.
St. Teresa in Belleville got its STEM lab running this year, after several years of planning and fund-raising.
“Those skills that you and I learned, memorizing facts, quite honestly isn’t going to be enough anymore,” Birdsong said.
He said today’s students might have 10 to 14 jobs by the time they’re 35.
“Kids have to learn to think and adjust and adapt. They have to learn how to think, not just remember facts anymore,” he said.
A STEM focus forces teachers from different departments to work together on projects, helping students make the links that will help them later in life.
The lab at St. Teresa opened in January and was built for $288,000, said Lisa Elbe, of St. Teresa. Costs do not include the equipment, but teachers have consolidated their science equipment into the lab.
“It allows the students to be in an environment where they will be in high school and college; it’ll be a familiar space for them. The kids can go in and spread out and have all the resources right at their fingertips,” Elbe said.
The first grade built a mockup of the Great Wall of China; other grades have used flame tests to determine what chemical is burning by judging the color.
One of Birdsong’s favorites to watch this year was the kindergarten class experimenting with building styles the three little pigs could use to combat the wolf’s hot air, which came courtesy of a hair dryer.
“The boys of course were building towers, because that’s what boys do. And finally one of them said, ‘Guys we have to build it shorter, so it won’t fall over when the wind hits it.’”
Birdsong said the kindergarten teachers might use the lab as much as anyone else, because “hands-on is so beneficial.”
Teacher Peggy Tribout, who teaches science to students in grades fifth through eighth, said she could not have done the flame test before the lab.
“In a classroom, everything is just too close together,” she said.
Tribout looks forward to expanding the program and expects to have a grow cart for plants next year “instead of just on windowsills.”