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DMS students learn through discovery with STEM

Seventh-grade students work on a project in Dixie Dennis' class at Dickinson Middle School. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Todd Selle helps eighth-grade students with their roller-coaster project at Dickinson Middle School. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

Seventh- and eighth grade students at Dickinson Middle School take part in STEM classes that give them hands-on learning experience in science, technology, engineering and math.

There are two teachers for both grades; the students rotate between the two.

The seventh-grade classes, Environmental Issues and Innovations in Engineering, are taught in units like typical core classes.

In Mary Jane Jeske's Environmental Issues class, students are working on a project to discover how technology has affected fish populations.

In containers, she put grains of rice, beans and peas, each one representing a different type of fish. The students used three different nets to "fish" for them, using a one-handed technique to represent lesser technology and a two-handed technique to represent greater technology. They recorded what and how much they were catching with each net. Next, they will graph their data.

In Dixie Dennis' Innovations and Engineering class, students recently finished creating pinball machines, a project that used the students' recently gained knowledge from math class of angles and polygons. They had to create and label polygons in their pinball machine, as well as label the angles.

She didn't give them plans for a pinball machine. After looking at some online and talking about what the machines do, the students had to figure out how build one on their own.

"I will give them a challenge like this, and then my class is all about the design process," said Dennis. "I want them to use their imagination to think of solutions. It's problem solving. It's using imagination and creating something."

Principal Marcus Lewton likes the discovery aspect of the classes.

"You hear a lot of questions like 'let's try this,' 'what do you think of this?' 'why didn't that work?', 'what should we do next?', 'what did they do?'" he said. "Our business leaders in town have said that our kids need critical thinking skills, and that would be one of them, right? Problem solving."

When the students move to the eighth-grade STEM classes, Exploring Solutions, taught by Kyle Christensen, and Innovations in Technology, taught by Todd Selle, they will work in modules including animation, graphics, metals, plumbing, electricity, drones and more.

Lewton said he likes having different modules.

"I like to think that we give them that little taste. If they really like graphic design, they can go up to the high school and they can learn even more about it." he said. "We have great teachers and a great program up there."

In these classes, students have access to industrial equipment including a CNC lathe and a CNC mill, both of which are used in manufacturing, and a laser engraver. Much of the equipment was donated by businesses in the community.

"Our goal is to create the working force for those businesses in the future, both on the upper level and the manual labor level as well," Selle said, "giving them the skills they need to work with each other — communication skills, critical thinking skills, collaboration, creativity."

Selle said one of the main goals of the class is to supplement math and science and to show their applications, giving the students "real life, hands-on experience."