WAEC third-and-fourth-graders piloting technology projects

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Warren Area Elementary Center fourth-grade STEM student Tyler Brown makes some adjustments to his crane at the school’s STEM lab.

Third- and fourth-graders at Warren Area Elementary Center are the pilots for a high-flying project.

They’re learning. They’re succeeding. They’re gaining confidence. And they’re having fun.

The Warren County School District school board approved a pilot STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program for this year.

Every marking period, each third- and fourth-grader at WAEC takes STEM for about 45 minutes a day for nine consecutive days. The second-graders had a three-day STEM experience, too.

The room looks different from all the others.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Warren Area Elementary Center fourth-grade STEM students, from left, Liliana Franklin and Isabelle Rockwell test materials for conductivity in the school’s STEM lab.

The tables are oblong and fit together in groups of three.

Cables from each group of tables run straight up to the ceiling.

And there are examples of technology all over the place.

On Friday, students, on their own or in groups of two, were tackling five stations: Ozobots, Lego WeDo (racers), Code.org, Snap Circuits, and IQ Key.

“I really like Ozobots,” Kaden Werner said. “I’m trying to teach him the code.”

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Warren Area Elementary Center fourth-grade STEM student Kaden Werner sets his Ozobot on the coded path he created in the school’s STEM lab.

The one-inch robot can follow a line, and, depending on color combinations drawn into the line, perform a number of actions — faster, slower, zig-zag, spin, things like that.

Olencia Corso and Laken Carroll were testing their Lego WeDo.

They put the racer on the floor, stomped a foot right in front of it, and recorded its reaction.

“There’s a motion sensor in the front,” Corso said.

The racer is supposed to go about five-floor tiles. When it was going farther than that and threatening to move into other students’ territory, one of the students step in front of it again.

“We learned about conductors and insulators,” Liliana Franklin said.

They completed a circuit using a number of different items, from a wooden dowel to a paper clip.

“We learned that metal things can make the light bulb light up,” Isabelle Rockwell said.

“The electricity flows through the metal, but not the other things,” Franklin said.

At the Code.org station, Madalyn Nobles had to make a movie character — Scrat from Ice Age — move to an acorn.

“It’s hard, challenging, and really fun,” she said.

Students use pre-written chunks of code and have to put them in the right order to accomplish goals, STEM teacher Mandi McBriar said. “They are also learning to debug code. They have to figure out what’s wrong and shift the block around so the character does what it’s supposed to do.”

“They’re getting those higher concepts through play,” she said. The program adds to the fun by using familiar characters.

“My favorite station would be IQ Key,” Tyler Brown said. “You get to build stuff and figure out how stuff works.”

His crane was not working at the beginning of class Friday. By the end, he had it running smoothly.

“It can be hard to build,” Brown said. “Once it’s built, it’s fun. You can do a lot of things.”

“This is our first year of it,” Werner said. “I think it was a cool experience.”

“I like coming here,” Brown said. “You get to learn about tech. You can learn how to program or build circuits. It’s really fun.”

“It’s pretty fun,” Franklin said. “We get to have fun and learn about science at the same time.”

The school board talks about the STEM program regularly.

Members ask about its progress so far. They ask if the program is going to spread throughout the rest of the district.

McBriar would encourage the district to expand the opportunities. “Absolutely. I strongly believe that.”

Her niece has been in a program in another district that offers STEM starting in kindergarten. “That would be something,” McBriar said.

“This room provides an even playing field,” she said. “Regardless of your ability, everybody has a chance to succeed in here and learn new things.”

“They’re learning while having fun,” McBriar said. “That’s the thing that came up over and over — ‘I’m learning and I’m having fun.'”

The students aren’t the only ones.

“To see the confidence when they can help a classmate or explain to their teacher because they’ve already solved that problem, that’s huge,” she said. “That’s a lot of fun to watch.”

“Seeing how much fun they have, how much they’re learning, and how many connections they’re making,” McBriar said. “That says it all. That makes it worth it.”