Scientific concepts aren’t just theories anymore for Woodstock elementary school students. And if a classroom full of eager second-graders can’t save the penguin, who will?
Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 is in the second stage of rolling out its STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum at all six district elementary schools after piloting the program at Olson Elementary School last year.
Students in first grade through fifth spend two hours each week on STEM instruction. Each grade level has a different curriculum category all focusing on physical, earth and life science with hands-on projects and engineering woven through the lessons.
Students in Marcy Buchanan’s second-grade class at Westwood Elementary School recently learned about conducting heat, insulation, light refraction and put their knowledge to the test. Their challenge was to build an igloo for a penguin-shaped ice cube that would keep the ice from melting even under a heat lamp.
Students were asked to design their structure on paper and select material from bins including styrofoam, aluminum foil, cardboard and other odds and ends.
Jacki Carrasco, District 200 director of elementary curriculum, said the district rolled out the STEM curriculum at Olson, Westwood, Dean and Greenwood schools this year while Mary Endres and Prairiewood will be on board next year.
Carrasco and Keely Krueger, assistant superintendent for early childhood and elementary education, gave an elementary STEM presentation for the District 200 Board of Education at its Dec. 11 meeting.
There is some specific training needed for the STEM teachers and training for classroom teachers on the general curriculum. The District’s current STEM teachers are Buchanan, Maggie Jensen and Mary Hoyt.
Carrasco said the elementary STEM program is designed to meet Next Generation Science Standards and Illinois standards by giving kids exposure to higher level science thinking at a younger age.
“We’re creating thinkers,” she said. “By giving students experiences where they are engineering and have hands-on experiences, it will make the curriculum come to life for them.”
There’s a broad spectrum of subject matter from first through fifth grade. For example, third-graders learn about forces and interaction, weather, climate and ecosystems while first-graders study light and sound, space systems and animal adaptations.
Engineering concepts are always woven into the lessons. Other hands-on student projects include designing a house that can withstand a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake and designing shoes for specific environments similarly to how animal feet genetically evolve based on their surroundings.
Carrasco said students have Project Lead the Way and STEM curriculum in middle and high schools but said both staff look forward to the benefits of the programming at the primary level.
“We’re getting them excited about scientific concepts and ready for deeper challenges in the higher grades,” she said.