Students explore STEM concepts in a lab setting

Schmitt Elementary School’s STEM lab puts science, technology, engineering and math in the hands of students.

The school created a STEM lab three years ago, said Brett Boezeman, Schmitt principal. The lab serves 690 Schmitt students and offers 29 classes each week, he said.

Debra Griffin, a former Cummins engineer who became an entrepreneur, became Schmitt’s STEM lab teacher in August. She provides activities through the Curiosity Machine, a website developed by a non-profit organization known as Iridescent that provides engineering design projects.

“I think the benefits are amazing because exposing the kids at an elementary level to science, technology, engineering and math can have life-changing benefits,” Griffin said. “You’re exposing them to terms and thought processes that they wouldn’t be exposed to at this age, so I think through this, you can change lives.”

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The Curiosity Machine project fifth- and sixth-grade students recently focused on was building a “mighty machine” using sticks and rubber bands that jump in the air.

The project was designed to teach students about kinetic energy and was part of a three-week lesson in which students plan, design and test their work, Boezeman said.

“The kids can’t touch anything until they build it,” he said. “It’s an engineering process by design.”

Collaboration also is an important aspect in the lab for fifth-grade students Keairra Green, Kierra Edwards and Britney Lopez, who sit next to each other as part of their weekly visits to the lab Thursdays.

Edwards, 10, said she drew a sketch of her design on paper before attempting to construct her machine. However, Edwards’ project was developed through trial-and-error after it broke in half, requiring her to start over from scratch.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but it was really hard,” Edwards said.

Green said the trio has also been involved in making other projects including a bridge made out of straws and toilet paper rolls and a balloon helicopter.

Griffin’s expertise is also helpful when discussing and creating projects, Edwards said.

“She has good ideas and really helps you,” Edwards said.

Boezeman said he hopes the STEM lab will spark an interest among students to pursue STEM-related degrees and that students will come back to Columbus for a job someday.

“Our goal is that our kids get exposure to engineering and math and science through the process,” he said. “There’s a lot of collaboration going on, but we’ve got data showing kids are passing math and science standards because of the STEM lab.”

Griffin also said she hopes students’ involvement in the STEM lab makes them see things differently.

“I hope they realize they can do anything they set their mind to and that the sky is the limit,” she said.

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In addition to the STEM lab at Schmitt Elementary School, Taylorsville Elementary School also has a STEM lab for students that opened this year.