According to the 2013 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development comprehensive work ranking report, the U.S. is currently ranked 26th in mathematics and 21st in science out of 34 countries surveyed. With American students lagging far behind their international peers, the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics initiative, also known as STEM, has received great interest in schools nationwide.
In support of this initiative, Mahaffey Middle School was host to the Mobile Ed’s STEM Museum Wednesday. Organized by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, the touring program turned the school’s gymnasium into a state-of-the-art, hands-on children’s lab focused on STEM education.
“It’s an extensive hands-on activity museum, a learning opportunity where students can do and see the results [of their efforts],” said Pansy B. Straub, Mahaffey’s assistant principal.
“It really addresses some of the best practices on the way to teach.”
With 16 activity stations, the workstations helped augment Mahaffey’s existing science and math curriculum by exposing students to new high-tech fields of study.
“Daily we work at providing rigorous challenges for our students, and this is one more avenue for exposing students to STEM initiatives,” said Straub. “[Our] students have thoroughly enjoyed working with this Mobile STEM lab … as each student attending has worked with multiple high interest activities.”
Jamie Austin, the Mahaffey education technologist who works with the school’s “Continuous School Improvement Team,” noticed the need to support school goals and saw technology as a main tool for implementing related learning in science, engineering and mathematics.
“What makes this unique from anything we have done before is that this is entirely hands on,” said Austin. “Hands-on knowledge and experience with real-world examples.”
With budget cuts hampering the ability to schedule off-post field trips, Austin worked with the Mahaffey PTO member, Emily Rich, to look for alternative economical learning opportunities.
“We looked at different things to try this year – to prevent the students from having to go out [on field trips], keep the school from having to spend money on buses and things like that,” said Rich. “This also allowed us to do one field trip for the whole school, which saved money.”
The Mobile Lab Program is designed to enhance the education of high-school, middle-school and elementary students by providing high-tech equipment and high-quality curriculum. The goal of the production was to help students overcome certain learning obstacles by making learning fun.
“A lot of our students are kinesthetic learners – they learn better by touching and doing the actual project,” said Rich. “The mobile museum makes learning fun.”
Students were free to explore the museum and manage their time between stations that appealed to their individual interests. Activities included building structures using engineering techniques, testing the effectiveness of pulley designs, using robotics to accomplish tasks, watching a 3D printer in action and more.
Eighth grader Emily Massie found the STEM activities enlightening and a great alternative to everyday classroom work.
“When you learn something though a lecture, you only learn about that thing, but when you learn something hands-on you learn more about it, you learn how it’s happening, you have proof of what’s going on,” said Massie.
James Newton, an eighth grade science teacher, has used STEM initiatives with his student focused, hands-on project work for some time.
“STEM lets kids be more creative and helps them think in a different way,” said Newton.
“Too much right now is done on the computer, and students don’t get a hands-on experience and that’s where STEM becomes very important. It makes them think differently, engages them more.”
Straub believes students will view science and technology in a new light, thanks to the hands-on lab.
“I think they are going to have confidence in science,” said Straub. “I think it’s going to just open a wide area of science opportunities and they are going to see that a lot of their science is in everyday activities.”