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Grant from Education Foundation helps expand STEM program at John Harris Elementary School

Stefanie Hage, a third-grade teacher at John Harris Elementary School, is always looking for ways to engage students and help them learn in new and exciting fashion.

She especially enjoys making use of the school’s expanded STEM Lab, the first one in the district.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which typically are challenging subjects for students. However, STEM-related classes also have significant applications in the real world.

Hage has been a strong force in establishing and expanding use of the STEM Lab program at John Harris, Principal Nancy Hagen says.

“She’s just an innovative and passionate teacher who is driven. She’s gone above and beyond to create this (lab) for our students,” Hagen says.

The lab was established with funding from a grant through the Sioux Falls School District. An Innovation in Education grant from the Education Foundation helped expand the program and make it available to more students.

The grant for approximately $4,000 was awarded for an application submitted by kindergarten instructor Shannon Hohweiler for robotics and coding resources.

The grant to Hohweiler was a big boost that has enabled the school to open the lab to every student in the building,” Hage says.

The lab enables teachers to present challenges for students at all grade levels and increase the complexity of projects as students advance.

Students have access to robotic resources such as Bee Bots and Spheros to learn about coding, Vex Robotics kits and Lego Mindstorms for design and building projects, and Cubelets robotic blocks for construction.

“The STEM Lab engages students in investigative, innovative and creative thinking,” Hagen says.

The use of robotics tools allows for the engagement of students in creative and meaningful ways while also meeting academic standards. Some projects create nonstandard opportunities, meaning students might not get the results they expected, which is fine, Hage says, because that’s the kind of study that can create real growth in students.

The STEM Lab opened in a small room in January 2015, but since then has moved to a larger classroom. The lab serves all of the school’s approximately 650 students.

Individual teachers are responsible for incorporating STEM Lab opportunities into their classroom lessons. During the school year, students are using the lab every day. But teachers also can load up Stem Lab supplies for presentations or use at other schools in the district.

Visiting a maker space in the Harrisburg School District initially fanned Hage’s interest to help develop a good Stem Lab in Sioux Falls.

“Providing STEM education for students is something I knew I wanted to be involved with. Creating learning opportunities for children is what education is all about for me,” she says.

To read all of the articles in the latest edition of the Foundation Newsletter, click to download your copy. August 2016 Newsletter