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IN THE CLASSROOM: STEM Starts in Early Learning
IN THE CLASSROOM: STEM Starts in Early Learning
Gordon Mathis

A member of the Galloway Class of 1989, Julie Hleap joined Galloway this year as our new STEM specialist in Early Learning. She teaches an introduction to the scientific method to fourth grade students. 

The introductory lesson focuses on procedures. There are two assignments: to make sun butter and jelly sandwiches or to make slime. The intention of the lesson is to teach the students to write detailed instructions. The students write hands-on instructions for the project in their journals, then someone else has to follow the instructions. The exercise provoked hilarity in the class - and learning as well. 

Some students assumed the experimenter would know to open the container of sun butter and the container of jelly - but they did not include that step in the instructions. Similarly, some students assumed the experimenter would know to get a plastic knife to spread the sun butter and the jelly. Some students assumed the experimenter would know to spread the ingredients on two different pieces of bread and put them together, with the "gooey" sides of the bread facing each other. 

Imagine the learning that ensues from this lesson: the importance of writing all steps clearly, the necessity of avoiding assumptions, the clarity of proper sequencing. And laughter accompanied this lesson in the rudiments of the scientific method. 

Similarly for first grade students, Mrs. Hleap has students participate in an observation lab. The students draw an outline of one hand. Then they generate questions based on a close study of their hand: how do fingernails grow? Why are there fingerprints? Why is there hair on their hands? Why are there spots sometimes?  Why are there knuckles? The questions lead to investigation for deeper learning. (Hint: All mammals have either fur or hair. Humans have hair. Are humans mammals? - a significant categorizing process for an early elementary student.)

Mrs. Hleap introduces younger students to engineering and architecture. First, the students hear a story with a character who is faced with a problem - how to cross a river? The students are tasked with building a bridge over the pretend river, a bridge that can bear the weight of a Hot Wheels car. 

Thanks to Mrs. Hleap, our students know you are never too young to participate in STEM activities!