Teachers and parents have long sought ways to inspire kids to learn in fun and imaginative ways, and STEM programs throughout the area are doing just that.
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) movement to bring about more focused science- and technology-based education was introduced by the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2001 and has grown and adapted to include additional areas of education, like the arts and even religion, with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) and STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programs. The educational programs have become such a part of today’s school curriculums that there even is a national STEM/STEAM Day, which has been celebrated annually since 2015 on Nov. 8.
In the Pittston Area School District, National STEM Day will bring students from different grade levels together to encourage younger students to become interested in science and technology when students from the high school visit the middle and intermediate schools. The event will be grade-specific and age-appropriate, and will focus on block programming languages, with Scratch, C++ and Java.
“We are trying to bring more STEM topics into the classroom, and this is one way to get students excited about it,” said James Kupetz, STEM coordinator for Pittston Area School District.
The district also brings its STEM efforts out into the community, with a Halloween-themed STEM program held every year at the high school, featuring hands-on science and crafting projects.
The district will continue its technology efforts with another coding event in December.
“The week of Dec. 9, to celebrate the Hour of Code, students will celebrate by coding for an hour,” said Kupetz.
The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, breaking down the steps to coding and showing students that everyone can learn the basics of coding.
Holy Rosary School, Duryea, also focuses on coding as part of its computer technology curriculum. Friday, Nov. 15, Holy Rosary students in grades five to eight will learn about both coding and coordinate planes by engaging in a game of Sphero Battleship. Students will learn how to code by training their Sphero robots to try to sink another team’s ship. Classmates will first plot their ships using ordered pairs on the coordinate plane. Then, team members will have to code their robots to move to ordered points to try and sink the other team’s ships.
“Students in grades K to eight learn coding each year as part of their technology curriculum,” said Melissa Skutack, Holy Rosary principal. “Coding helps students develop important skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance, communication and creativity.”
In the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Scranton, of which Holy Rosary is a part, the STEM/STEAM curriculum goes one step further, to include religion along with science, math and the arts.
The diocese recently announced a $1 million investment to incorporate STREAM into the curriculum at all of its 20 Catholic schools by May 2022.
“STREAM is forward-thinking, student-centered and cross-curricular,” Jason Morrison, diocesan secretary of Catholic education/chief executive officer, said in a statement announcing the new initiative back in September. “It goes beyond traditional STEM programs. By including the arts and religion, we are adding creativity, communication, and social responsibility rooted in our Catholic identity.”
Skutack explained the merger of sciences, math and religion can be seen in something as simple as Holy Rosary’s annual Thanksgiving pie making activity, which will be held Friday, Nov. 22. Students use reading skills to read the instructions, and math and science skills to measure the correct amount of ingredients and bake the pies, all while learning how to work together in groups to complete a task.
“The reason we bake pies for Thanksgiving is so that the children learn the importance of sharing and giving back to their families, so that would be the religion aspect,” Skutack said.
The diocese’s STREAM investment in its schools includes BeeBots and Spheros systems to teach computer coding and PadCaster technology to help students learn video production, journalism and public speaking. The schools also are setting aside classroom space dedicated to hands-on learning activities.
A favorite hands-on science activity at Wyoming Area Catholic School in Exeter is working in the school garden. Three years ago, Wyoming Area Catholic developed a STEM garden, designed by its then seventh graders.
“Each class planted seedlings in their classrooms, which were transplanted before the end of the school year to the garden. Students and their families took turns maintaining the garden all summer until the students returned in September, and they took over,” said Eileen Rishcoff, principal.
Teachers use the garden to explain science lessons, such as when students in one science class built hammocks with everyday items. The students then used the hammocks in the garden to elevate pumpkins off the ground to encourage better growth.
“This did not work, and we are going to try again,” Rishcoff explained. “But through our program, we say, ‘mistakes are okay,’ and the students had an opportunity to reflect about why it didn’t work.”
The students are continuing to use that ingenuity to improve the garden’s yield to help feed those in need in the community.
“Our harvested produce was and will continue to be donated to the Care and Concern Clinic in Pittston for the needy,” said Rishcoff.
Wyoming Area Catholic, through the help of Sandra Snyder, a grant writer for the Diocese of Scranton, received a grant from The Whole Kids Foundation to expand the STEM garden in preparation for the spring season.
Wyoming Area Catholic also has used the recent STREAM investment from the diocese to transform one of its homerooms into a Maker Space, which is a room that has an inventory of items to use in STREAM-related activities.
“Every class has the opportunity to use the space, and STREAM is implemented in all of our subjects. In the second quarter and for the remainder of the school year, each class will also have STREAM classes specifically designed to work on projects planned and created by several of our teachers,” Rishcoff said.
After school activities
School isn’t the only place children can take part in immersive, hands-on learning activities in math, sciences and the arts. Local libraries offer impressive lists of fun and educational programs. Pittston Memorial Library and Wyoming Free Library have dedicated STEAM clubs.
Wyoming Free Library introduced a new slate of STEAM activities in fall.
“STEAM is a big part of the libraries and schools. I figured we would start the club here,” said John Roberts, director of the Wyoming Free Library. “We had a really good response to this from the kids and parents that registered and have taken part in our program. It’s a good learning experience for the kids coming in.”
This year’s STEAM activities included an engineering session in September taught through the use of KEVA Planks building toys and marble mazes. In October, the program took on a Halloween theme with candy structures and puking pumpkins. This month, children 7 and older are invited to learn about engineering and building through Lego play.
“They build what they want; we don’t have any structure. They come, they build, we take pictures for about an hour,” Roberts said of the upcoming Lego STEAM activity. “It’s just like our Lego Club, but we incorporated it into our three-month STEAM program.”
The November STEAM program at Wyoming Free Library will be held at noon Saturday, Nov. 30. Registration is required and space is limited.
Another Christmas-themed Lego build is planned in December.
At the Pittston Memorial Library, the STEAM Club, for kids in kindergarten through fourth grade, meets every third Thursday of the month during the school year, except for December. Programs begin at 4:15 p.m. and last 30 to 45 minutes. Registration is required.
Each month, children can expect to learn something new with every visit. In October, Kristin Boettger, coordinator of children’s services at the Pittston Memorial Library, dissolved pumpkin-shaped candy corn in vegetable oil, water and milk to fit with the science and Halloween theme.
“I do simple science experiments,” Boettger explained. “We have done things with static electricity. I’ve used GoldieBlox to get girls interested in engineering, I’ve done boats, where I’ve given them the same size of tin foil and straws and tape, where I say, ‘Have at it, build whatever boat you can.”
However, Boettger doesn’t stick to one theme in STEAM She likes to bounce around each topic, giving each subject a fair chance.
“It is more what I can come up with, and then I advertise it through Facebook. It falls under one of those categories, but I don’t go science, technology, engineering, then art, I don’t follow, the letters, I do whatever I can come up with,” said Boettger
While West Pittston Library doesn’t have a STEAM Club, per se, the oversight is in name only. The library offers a wide variety of hands-on activities to encourage children to develop skills in the arts and sciences.
Among its programs are drawing classes, sewing classes, craft programs, a live-action Minecraft event, Lego activities, Maker Mondays that keep the learning going when kids are off from school on the many Monday holidays, and an “AhhMAZEing” program that allows kids to test their brainpower with a variety of mazes, including a gravity maze, a marble maze, marble run, a coding maze, and classic paper mazes.
At West Pittston Library, November has been re-dubbed DINOvember with dinosaur-themed activities like dino bingo, making dino masks, taking part in a dino dig and doing dino- crafts.
For a full list of children’s learning activities at the local libraries, visit Pittston Memorial Library at pittstonmemoriallibrary.org or call 570-654-9565; West Pittston Library at wplibrary.org or call 570-654-9847 or Wyoming Free Library at wyomingfreelibrary.com or call 570-693-1364.