Science is meant to be experienced, which is why people have been so excited about the innovative STEM-based learning environment in our Kindergarten Grow program, currently in its second year. Now in phase two, as part of our plan to bring hands-on STEM-based learning to the entire elementary experience, we have completed several innovative upgrades to our first and second grade classrooms. Our first grade room has been outfitted with flexible seating for collaborative learning activities, floor-to-ceiling whiteboards to allow for easy access for little learners, and a dynamic new hands-on kitchen unit from the Charlie Cart Project. The Charlie Cart is an integrated educational program that connects food and cooking with lessons in Math, Language Arts, Science, Bible and Social Studies. This new curriculum allows for added standards-based rigor through hands-on nutrition education. One first grade student explained, “I like that we have a kitchen in our room. The Charlie Cart is fun. There are all kinds of materials we can use. So far we've made apple sauce and corn on the cob with chili and lime!”
In the second grade, students are literally digging into Earth and Life Sciences with their new Earth Science Lab Cart. This year students have already planted and cultivated their own produce from the Juice Plus Tower Garden System. The tower garden system is a vertical garden that allows students to grow a wide variety of plants while learning about the basic structure and needs of living organisms. Additionally, students are getting their hands dirty by manipulating earth’s many surfaces and weather related phenomenons in the classroom using their new Earth Science Lab Cart. The new lab cart allows teachers to create reconstructions of landforms to deepen students’ understanding of these scientific concepts. In the spring second graders will be learning about the animal life cycle by raising classroom chicks in our new outdoor garden space. Students are experiencing cross curricular science in a way that opens their minds, hands and hearts to learning. Second grade teacher, Mrs. Kim Kihm said, “The new Earth Science Lab Cart has greatly enhanced the curriculum and instruction in our classroom. The convenience of having the cart in our room with the ability for the whole class to get around it and have the basin to do things with all types of liquids and manipulatives all in one place is so great. The classroom is a more enriching place because of tools like this science lab cart and for this I am so grateful. It is so wonderful when the students are able to connect the challenge of learning to the joy of understanding through the hands-on experience.”
Both classrooms are advancing instruction through student-centered technology with the introduction of the Prowise Digital Learning Center. The Prowise allows students to create projects, write ideas, and practice skills by using a large digital computer to manipulate, collaborate, and plan together. The unit resembles a large flat screen television and can adjust to stand vertically to display student work, show educational video content, or function as a touch-screen tool for teachers. It can also be lowered and lay flat like a table for students to engage in collaborative activities that teach and reinforce skills and concepts embedded in the classroom curriculum. A second grade student said, “The Prowise board is so cool because we can play learning games, and it can move up and down and sideways. It is like a big iPad, and it is cool that five students can be touching it at the same time.”
Plans are already in development for expansion across all elementary grades for a STEM-based learning environment as part of the final phase to be completed next year. We look forward to sharing more about how we are already integrating the hands-on science learning experience this year in our upper elementary grades in the near future. To accomplish our mission of academic excellence, these enhancements are part of our larger vision to further advance student engagement and academic rigor in the elementary school.