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Elementary students in Bellevue schools taking on STEM studies
By Julie Benson
Special to the Bellevue Reporter
“Failure is not an option. It’s a requirement,” explained Jennifer Mickelson, teacher at Newport Heights Elementary, as her students finalized parachutes for launch.
The third graders eagerly conferred with teammates as they tested how factors such as surface area and shape affected the velocity of the parachutes as part of an engineering design challenge. Along with Medina and Ardmore elementary schools, Newport Heights is participating in the first year of Bellevue School District’s Elementary STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) project. Funding from Bellevue Schools Foundation is making the pilot possible.
Students at the three pilot schools are participating in engineering design challenges throughout the year. They also have the opportunity to participate in robotics clubs and in-class activities, where they design and program robots using interactive technology. Families are engaged through events such as family engineering and coding nights.
STEM is incorporated into other disciplines as well, from language arts and social studies to the arts and more.
And teachers at the pilot schools are participating in professional development throughout the year to learn how to teach the engineering units. They’re also learning from each other using Teaching Channel, a tool for video-based professional development.
“The Teaching Channel provides us an opportunity to capture real-time what is happening in Bellevue classrooms and quickly share with colleagues around the district,” explained Cheri Bortleson, instructional technology curriculum leader at Ardmore Elementary. “It supports collaboration among teachers in a unique way where we can share ideas to enhance student outcomes, ask questions of one another regarding student learning, and develop lesson ideas.”
While Washington state has the highest concentration of STEM jobs in the country, the mismatch between the skills required for those jobs and individuals with those skills is growing faster than in every state but one.
“It's so important that we engage students and equip them with 21st century skills,” explained Greg Bianchi, Bellevue School District’s K-5 STEM curriculum developer. “Interest in STEM fields often begins in the elementary years. Even kids who don’t choose to pursue STEM careers will benefit from the focus on teamwork and critical thinking.”
During one recent challenge, Ardmore Elementary kindergartners worked in teams to build ramps and launch toy vehicles, learning about concepts such as claim, evidence, reasoning, and force as they adjusted the slope of the ramps to affect the distance traveled. Each group then shared their results with an audience of parents and teachers.
“We did it! We got the bus to Safeco Field!” shouted one enthusiastic student.
With continued support from Bellevue Schools Foundation, the pilot will expand to six more schools next year and all elementary schools the following year. “We are not looking for a magnet model,” said Bianchi. “We are looking for STEM for every child.”
Julie Benson is communications manager of the Bellevue Schools Foundation.
Students from Ardmore Elementary School present their findings to classmates. COURTESY PHOTO, Laura Zimmerman
One STEM project had students at Ardmore Elementary School build ramps and launch toy vehicles, learning about concepts such as claim, evidence, reasoning, and force as they adjusted the slope of the ramps to affect the distance traveled. COURTESY PHOTO, Laura Zimmerman