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Alicia Ellerbrock, 13, uses an injector mold during a recent session in Dimmick Grade School’s science, technology, engineering and math laboratory. The STEM lab, which is part of the school’s recent expansion, offers students eight new science modules that provide hands-on learning opportunities.
DIMMICK TOWNSHIP — When Dimmick Grade School initiated a roughly $1.5 million expansion last year, more classroom and meeting space wasn’t the only objective. The expansion included a science, technology, engineering and math lab that is now regularly being put to use by students.
“One of the biggest complaints we get is there’s not enough STEM time,” superintendent Ryan Linnig said.
The new STEM lab features eight work modules that look similar to office cubicles, as well as an area for traditional science lab experiments. Each module involves building objects and using the scientific method through experimentation in a specific content area.
It offers a change of pace from traditional textbook-based science education.
“The kids seem to like the hands-on approach,” said Annika Cadegiani, STEM coordinator. One of the most popular — and messiest — modules focuses on forensic science, Cadegiani said.
“You’re pretending like you’re in a part of ‘CSI,’” she said, referring to the popular series of television crime dramas.
During a recent session, Alicia Ellerbrock, 13, was busy working in the plastics and polymers module, where she used a small injector molder to make vacuum molds in unique shapes.
“It’s very hands-on and you’re able to learn in different ways and be creative,” she said.
After completing that particular module, students are able to recycle the molds they make into plastic golf tees.
Students work in pairs at their own pace through each module. Assessments measure each student’s knowledge of the module topics before and after, so Cadegiani can see if they are making educational progress beyond their baseline knowledge.
“They’re having higher percentages of achievement,” Cadegiani said, adding that the students also seem to be recalling information better.
The STEM curriculum also provides students with information that allows them to connect what they’re learning about in the various modules to possible careers in STEM fields.
The other modules currently offered include computer graphics and animation, lights and lasers, flight technology, eco-architecture, audio broadcasting and engineering towers.
These specific topics were chosen from a long list of possible modules with input from last year’s student government.
“We wanted them to have some interest in it,” Cadegiani said.
Currently, grades five through eight get to use the STEM modules.
Students meet by grade level in the STEM lab once a week for two-hour sessions. These sessions are considered enrichment learning as they continue to have their regular science classes daily, although Cadegiani noted the school also implemented a new science curriculum which puts more focus on experimentation.
Linning explained this is just phase one of the STEM program. Beginning next year, the school will be adding two new modules per year until the total reaches 14.
Potentially, Dimmick could swap modules with other school districts that are using the same STEM system.
Matthew Baker can be reached at (815) 220-6933, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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