RUSSIA — First graders at Russia Local School participated in a trial run of a new STEM lab activity center, Thursday, Sept. 20.
Under the guidance of technology coordinator Marcus Petitjean, the students worked in small groups at eight different stations, each featuring a different STEM subject.
STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics when applied in primary and secondary education settings, aims to prepare students for post-secondary options in these fields.
Petitjean, who has been a teacher at Russia for 39 years, felt that children often do not get enough firsthand experience with things like building, fixing and critical problem-solving.
“Kids are no longer growing up on the farm, so they’re not exposed to any of this,” Petitjean said. “A lot of parents don’t fix anything anymore; they just buy it new because some items now cost more to try and fix, or you just can’t fix it. When I was growing up, we had to fix it, or we did without. So I’m trying to give them some hands-on experience.”
Petitjean said he was able to make the STEM lab a reality over the summer by using leftover school funds. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade will have the opportunity to participate.
“I purchased a variety of activities for them that are grade-appropriate, with the teachers’ input,” he said. “With one activity, they’ll be learning about gears and building bridges, and another is for blueprint reading. We have eight activities (per class). They’ll come to this class once a month, and each time they come, they’ll do a different activity.”
In total, Petitjean said he acquired 38 STEM center activity kits. The kits are made to appear like toys or games, but by playing with them, students are learning in-depth problem-solving skills that have real-world application.
Some of the kits include activities based on learning about electricity, engineering, architecture, wind tunnels and building with bricks, as well as some kits for solving real-life crises like oil spills and water shortages.
During the lab’s trial run, Petitjean assigned a group of eighth-grade students to guide the first-graders through each exercise. He is also working with the Workforce Partnership of Shelby County to make STEM education accessible to students in grades eight through 12. His hope is that these students will learn about career options they may not have considered previously.
“I surveyed my junior high and high school students, and 95 percent said they were going to go to college, but when I asked what they were going to go into, 90 percent had no idea,” he said. “There are a lot of good-paying jobs out there that don’t require four years of college.”
Petitjean will work with various local businesses to come up with ideas for activities and events for these older students.
As for the STEM activity center, Petitjean said he plans to write for a grant this year to continue the lab’s funding.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.