Like many educators across the country, Lori Rice, fourth-grade teacher and Camp Invention® Director at West Elementary School in Wamego, Kansas, had to quickly adjust to meet the needs of her students as COVID-19 forced the closure of her school building.
To evaluate this school district’s transition to online learning, surveys were sent to each family. While the feedback was largely positive, a few parents expressed the desire for more resources beyond the typical school day.
One parent suggested that perhaps the school could offer a STEM club, and that prompted Rice to consider what such a club could look like. “The challenge was that I didn’t want anyone to be left out due to a lack of materials or resources,” Rice said in an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF).
She then remembered NIHF’s free at-home learning resources page, which offers many accessible STEM activities, and she realized that these projects could be used to create a STEM club for any interested students. After running the idea by her principal, the plan was approved and soon the STEM club was up and running.
Getting Students Engaged in STEM Learning
Offering weekly sessions throughout the month, the club was made available to anyone who wanted to join and ultimately included 30 participants. Because Rice selected STEM activities that use accessible household materials, the students were immediately engaged with their projects.
“The children were so excited about the club, that a week later they would tell me they had continued working on their creations, which is what I had hoped for,” Rice said. “The piece that was huge for students was that the activities were project-based — they didn’t realize they were learning about the science behind airspeed for example; they were just playing, which is exactly what kids need.”
By combining virtual instruction with hands-on activities, the students who attended Rice’s STEM club were able to experience the best of both worlds: direction from an instructor and the ability to collaborate with other students, paired with engaging activities that make learning fun.
Preparing for the Upcoming School Year
While no one is sure what the upcoming school year will look like, Rice plans to use the lessons she learned when hosting her STEM club to inform her teaching. “I feel like we talk about how important project-based learning is, but it’s easy to fall into our patterns and what’s been done before,” Rice said. We have got to move projects and personalized learning to the forefront of what we’re doing.”
To help schools prepare for all learning situations, NIHF has developed a new program for the school year: Invention Project®. Comprised of more than 30 activities spanning 22.5 hours, this cross-cutting curriculum complements existing lesson plans and provides effective hands-on experiences for in-school, at-home and blended settings. Aligned to State, Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, Invention Project supports social-emotional learning (SEL) and sparks imagination through open-ended exploration.
To learn more about our new programs and opportunities for the fall, we invite you to visit our website!