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Heart River students, parents enjoy hands-on STEM activities

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Kindergartner David Graves attaches the last straw to his structure during Heart River Elementary's Title I STEM night, Monday. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

Kindergartner David Graves reached his final straw — a blue one.

David was building a structure using straws and 3D-printed connectors during Heart River Elementary School's Title I STEM night "Gateway to Science" event.

As he inserted the green connector into one end of the blue straw, his father watched him, holding the coffee filter parachute David had made earlier. Next to David, his younger sister Violet watched a teacher attach a connector to her straw structure.

The teacher had told them when they first arrived to the station, "You get to build things in here! You can build a house. You can build a skyscraper. What do you think you might want to build?"

David built a box.

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Gary and Vanessa Graves, David and Violet's parents, brought them to the David's school for the event for the learning aspect of it. Violet will attend the school next year, and Gary said they wanted to give her a head start.

"He loves learning. He loves taking stuff apart and putting it back together, so the brain teaser challenge, he was figuring some stuff out. All together, it was fun," Gary said.

Principal Susan Cook said Heart River's Title I nights have traditionally focused on literacy.

"We try to tie it to literacy and to some of the standards that we have in reading," she said. "Last year, at the end of the year, we had our title coordinators do a parent survey, and the parents’ responses came back as science being an interest to them. We took that into consideration and decided that we would look into this."

Each year, the school does a different activity for the night. Last year, they facilitated bingo. The year before, they watched the movie “Coco.”

The night was organized by Janet Rosario, the STEM outreach director for Gateway to Science's statewide STEMzone program. She brings a van full of materials for the stations to the schools that sign up.

"All of the activities entail a STEM career, so science, technology, engineering and math," Rosario said. "We have different activities (to) try to bring a range of STEM-related activities. Along with all of the activities, I have signage that shows kids different career options … to tie a career to an activity."

The activities Rosario brought to Heart River included making and dropping parachutes, making and launching rockets, constructing buildings out of straws and drawing with a Spirograph.

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The "construct a building" station, in which students can use Lego-like pieces to build a structure, is new and in beta testing now.

Cook thinks Legos helped spark her children's interest in STEM.

"My oldest son is in aerospace and then my second son is an aquatic biologist, and I really believe that a lot of their fascination and their intrigue came from Legos," she said. "I bought a tub of Legos one time at a garage sale. The lady just wanted to get rid of them ... Hours would pass and those kids would be just engrossed in that."

The program is open to all schools for a fee, and the organization offers grants to help bring the program to their schools.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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