Learning STEM is an art form at Laurin Middle School

Diana Sterle teaching her STEM classStudents at Laurin Middle School have discovered that the most intriguing thing about their STEM class is usually not the science, technology, engineering or math concepts that it takes to solve problems.

It’s the art.

Take a recent assignment that STEM teacher Diana Sterle presented to her fifth and sixth grade students as an example. Studying a paper filled with nothing but 1,500 zeros and ones, the students didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. How could all of these seemingly random numbers represent anything?

It didn’t take long, though, for the confusion to quickly give way to curiosity and then excitement. You could almost see the light bulbs turn on above the kids’ heads as they realized that the zeros and ones unlock a secret: they’re bits of code that correlate to specific colors. And by filling in the corresponding rectangles with the correct color, pictures slowly emerge from the page.

The message is successfully received. The assignment demonstrates how computers make sense of codes to present digital images, and it’s a perfect example of how Sterle is turning lessons on STEM (shorthand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) into an art form for middle school students.

“While the name of my class is STEM, it might be more accurate to call it a STEAM class with all the art and creativity that gets incorporated into the lessons,” Sterle said. “By starting out with coordinate grids or a bunch of zeros and ones and ending up with a physical representation, students really connect the dots and understand that precision matters in science and technology.”

For sixth grader Bo Homola, the class has quickly become one of his favorite subjects. “I really like that I get to make choices in STEM class,” Homola said . “While we have to follow the project guidelines that we’re given, we also get to be creative, and that makes learning math and science a lot more fun.”

This is Sterle’s first year teaching at Laurin Middle School. While her STEM class is not officially part of Battle Ground Public School’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, Sterle’s class helps lay the groundwork for middle school students who may be interested in taking CTE courses when they get to high school by introducing them to STEM concepts.

In addition to the computer language and digital art project, the students have learned about scaling and design. They used coordinate planes to create two-dimensional characters from popular movies and games, and then converted the characters into three-dimensional creations using beads.

Another project taught physics lessons about gravity and kinetic/potential energy. Students made a “marble run” resembling a Rube Goldberg machine with parts that the students designed and created using a 3D printer. The goal of the marble run is to engineer pieces that fit together and provide the proper forces to direct a marble a certain way once it’s been dropped into the run.

“All of these activities support students in learning how to describe a problem, identify what the important details are to solve the problem, and break it into small, logical steps so they can create a process to solve the problem, and then evaluate the process,” Sterle said. “These skills are particularly relevant to developing digital systems and solving problems using computer capabilities, and understanding these concepts will help prepare these kids for the future if they’re interested in pursuing STEM in college and beyond.”

Fifth grader Nicole Kinzie appreciates that the class is so hands on. “Actually making things instead of trying to learn from a book is so much better,” Kinzie said. “Pretty much every day, we’re doing something in STEM class that combines art with technology, so it makes learning more exciting.”

“It’s my job to introduce these kids to technology and engineering concepts and to generate excitement,” Sterle said. “I want to expose them to as many relevant STEM topics as possible in a fun and interesting way. It’s more than a typical technology class, and we’re not just using computers to study these concepts.”

 

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