MBE STEM Update
MBE STEM Program Awarded State Grant
Mountain Brook Elementary was recently confirmed as a 2022 AMSTI Robotics Grant recipient. Technology Coordinator, Keisha LeRoux, and STEM teacher Mandy Mitchell partnered to apply for the grant that will help fund the Kindergarten- second grade
The STEM program at MBE. The award given by the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative will provide Bee-Bots accessories and a Sphero Indi Education Robot Class Pack which was named to Time's Best Inventions of 2021. These new resources will bolster the possibilities with existing materials like Bee-Bots as well as introduce robotics to younger elementary students. The 8 indi robots in the Sphero class pack lay a foundation for robotics by using color tiles to manipulate the robots.
Everyone at MBE is thrilled to hear this news about the STEM program. Principal Ashley McCombs applauds LeRoux and Mitchell, "Grant-writing is no joke, and we couldn't be prouder" She speaks on behalf of MBE students, parents, and teachers in congratulating the pair and saying, "Thank you for being advocates of STEM for our students."
New STEM Program at MBE Blasts Off
The STEM program at Mountain Brook Elementary has been reinvigorated this year, thanks to two new instructional assistants, Laura Rais-Bahrami and Mandy Michell.
Both instructors are certified teachers and have risen to the challenge of designing and facilitating the STEM classes which are taught to all students as part of the "specials" daily rotation at MBE, along with Art, Music, Spanish, and Library. MBE Principal Ashley McCombs has been impressed, saying that, "the quality of the learning experiences has exceeded our expectations." She is hopeful that, even though students have STEM once a week, "we expect to see the problem solving and critical thinking skills acquired during that time transpire into their academic performance and collaborative settings."
Ms. Mitchell works with kindergarten through 2nd-grade students. Her lessons are designed to encourage their curiosity and perseverance in problem-solving. These younger elementary students learn to create solutions as a team by listening to one another and building on ideas to solve a problem. Mitchell's objective is to allow the students "to be creative, which will help them as they build on their STEM challenges for many years to come." Ms. Rais-Bahrami has the 3rd through 6th graders. She designs specific STEM projects that build on the foundation the students received in the early grades.
MBE Technology Coordinator, Kiesha LeRoux, having observed the new program, says that the STEM teachers have implemented "fabulously creative projects designed to get our students engaged and thinking, and students have blast all while learning critical thinking and computational thinking skills!" One key to the program's growth has been the investment in STEM-related sets and kits. For example, the lower grades recently learned how to program Bee-Bot robots to go trick-or-treating. Donations and funds from the PTO Lancer Sponsors have helped secure other STEM sets like Cubelets (building robots from cubes), Makedo (teaching engineering with simple materials like boxes and straws), and SnapCircuits/LittleBits (which introduce circuitry). The STEM teaching team is excited to see these all work together. According to Leroux, "students could use the Makedo to create a cardboard instrument, then use our LittleBits to add some pizazz to it like lights and sounds ...the sky is really the limit."
Other new STEM lessons are inspired by ideas from popular picture books. For example, used Mo Willem's Pigeon books to challenge students to "Get the Pigeon to MBE using STEM materials. She was impressed by the students' creativity and says that some students used Legos and ramps, while others created catapults and hot air balloons to get him to school. She says that "we all had a lot of fun and I'm happy to say the Pigeon made it safely to MBE." Similarly, she used The Dot, by Peter Reynolds, to inspire students to use dot stickers to create structures and leave their "dot" on the world.
The collaboration between older and younger grades is clear from a recent project based on Balloons over Broadway, by Melissa Sweet, about the origins of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Inspired by the book, younger students used books and technology to research NYC-type buildings or to invent their own city business. The students then designed and built buildings representing the streets of New York using cardboard and Makedo kits. The older elementary students, under Rais-Bahrami's instruction, built corresponding floats and code robots to drive them through the city streets, allowing MBE to host their own version of the famed parade.
MBE students, teachers, and administrators have all been excited by the new STEM program. Kindergartner George Byram, says he loves going to STEM and that "engineering is my favorite." Sixth-grader Davis Rives says, "You get to do a lot of fun stuff like chain reactions and building LEGO contraptions." His classmate Richmond Brown agrees, "STEM class is engaging and hands-on, which makes me use my mind in a different way."Rais-Bahrami notes that the goal for STEM is to make it fun while also exposing students to STEM content and "skills like teamwork, perseverance, and communication that are integral for scientists, engineers, mathematicians and others in STEM-related fields." Both Mitchell and Rais-Bahrami intend for their STEM course work to carry over into all areas of academic study for the students, and 2nd-grade teacher, Julie Tuck, agrees that it does. She believes the problem-solving skills taught in STEM will be applied by students in her class and motivate new ideas and innovation.
Principal McCombs and Asst Principal Brannen Aaron hired Mitchell and Rais-Bahrami to revamp the STEM program and are pleased with the changes. Aaron says that "it is very powerful to see what the students are capable of and realize the impact enthusiastic, trained and certified teachers can have." McCombsbelieves that the STEM program will have such a significant impact on student learning that it will become a"necessary, not just optional course for all elementary students."
-- submitted by Maggie O'Connor --