STEM Education in the North Thurston Public Schools System is supported by Students Learn Hands-On

For Jana Brock, who is the Elementary Science Instructional & Integration Manager at North Thurston Public Schools, STEM is more than just a way to teach students about math and science. It is a way for children to go out and apply their studies to nature and other real world applications.

the boy poured water from a vessel into a larger one
According to experts, 92% of boys and 97% of girls will lose interest in STEM if they are not baptized before the fifth grade. Photo credit: Courtney Martin

“I see a lot of opportunities for students between pre-k and 5th grade to be curious about STEM learning,” shares Brock. “I see them using oral language and social-motor learning to integrate the math lessons they’re learning with their English skills through a curriculum lens.”

What is STEM?

The term STEM was coined in the early 2000s and stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Currently, it is one of the fastest growing approaches to education. Since its inception, the STEM education family has become a common term for integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines into one “meta-discipline.”

In addition, STEM education emphasizes hands-on, difficulty-based learning, where students spend more time engaging with their studies in a hands-on environment than spending more time behind art.

STEM Learning in North Thurston Schools Through Hands-On Activities

For many students, hands-on activities help them learn and retain information because it allows them to see their lessons come to life. “As they progress in STEM studies, they can make bigger connections, like, ‘Oh, this is where my learning is connected to real-world practices,'” Brock shares.

a child playing on the floor with a plastic space
Stem learning sets students up for the future. Currently, there are 13.1 million people employed in science and engineering-oriented STEM professions. Photo credit: Courtney Martin

For example, by using popsicles, Brock found a way to teach students about energy from the sun. “Each student gets two popsicles,” he explains. “They put one in the sun and eat the other popsicle. Then, while eating the popsicle, discuss what they observe to happen to the popsicle in the sun. They learn about heat, chemical changes, solid-liquid, and much more. Therefore, rather than the teacher reading in them how it is done, they are actually busy.”

STEM Teaching at North Thurston Schools Includes Outdoor Study

Being extra has been proven to develop “persistence, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, hard work and resilience” and pro-environmental behavior.

“I’ve heard teachers say that they are very nervous about bringing young kids who might have behavior problems outside of school to participate in STEM field studies,” shares Brock. “But when they actually go out there, they have absolutely no plan of action. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that when you’re abroad, you have to apply everything you’ve learned inside the school to what’s going on outside. It’s like everything they’ve learned inside the classroom becomes more relevant when they’re outside.”

a group of children with a teacher looking inside a large black rubber canal filled with water and hate
STEM activities help children take what they are learning and put it into action. Photo credit: Courtney Martin

This kind of natural thing is done and derived from paying attention to what they hear, smell, and see which is what STEM is all about. It gives students the freedom to breathe and learn to do a classical course differently.

In addition, STEM helps students practice critical social-emotional learning skills, which is the process of learning about self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills.

Brock explains that younger students take their STEM studies with them into middle and high school. In their first studies, they can hear from people who work in the fields what they are learning, which can help them to provide career opportunities. They can also expand what they have learned in STEM through high school careers and technical educations (CTEs).

Jana Brock was a student in the North Thurston public school system. He began teaching at St. Martin’s University and then student-taught at Lake Elementary, where he later went on to hire at Woodland Elementary.

Brock has a background in early childhood and extensive training in STEM. She is a WA Science Fellow and a member of OSPI Early Learning, the agency that oversees K-12 education in Washington state. In addition, Brock is in the state science degree program, where she and others are looking at the integration of science across the curriculum at the elementary level.


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