$15,000-plus in STEM Like Me! grants fuel STEM programs in Tri-City schools

More than $15,000 in STEM education grants are in use at Tri-City area schools, creating or supporting robotics clubs, aeroponic gardening and microscopic photography, among other projects.

Tri-City teachers were invited to apply for the STEM Like ME! grants through the Washington State STEM Education Foundation, with selection help from the Dream Builder’s Education Foundation.

Chiawana High School science teacher Angie Jarvis received a $975 grant to put toward a Rube Goldberg project for her freshmen STEM students. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We have wanted to complete a Rube Goldberg project for a couple of years … to integrate the content of our English, science and robotics classes into one project, but funding was always a concern,” Jarvis said.

A Rube Goldberg machine is designed to complete a simple task in a complicated manner. An example is the classic children’s board game, Mouse Trap, in which a ball must travel through a series of 3D challenges.

The STEM grants have been awarded for three years to teachers in Educational Service District 123. The Pasco-based ESD is one of nine in the state, serving 23 school districts in seven counties by providing a link to state and national educational resources.

It’s estimated at least 3,105 students benefited from the grants in the first two years, with an additional 5,618 students benefiting this current school year.

These estimates are conservative because at Pasco’s Marie Curie STEM Elementary alone, a teacher requested grant money for USB microscopes — digital microscopes that connect to a computer — to be used by 23 students.

The microscope materials may be shared throughout the school and could potentially benefit 800 students in one year.

The grants reward innovative ideas, programs or projects that help inspire Mid-Columbia students to learn about STEM fields.

“Great teachers deserve all the support we can give them. STEM projects can be costly and often teachers take these expenses out of their own pockets,” said Jean Dunkirk, chair of the STEM Like ME! Grants for Teachers program.

Jarvis is part of the ninth-grade STEM cohort at Chiawana and hoped to “teach students STEM concepts in a way that is engaging and innovative, in order to make the learning meaningful and relevant.”

At Chiawana, 64 students are part of the STEM program and worked in teams to design their Rube Goldberg machines using a variety of materials, including wood, plastic and ribbon.

“In order to be successful, we wanted to provide students with a selection of materials for building, as well as to allow students to determine the types of materials they wanted to incorporate beyond our initial inventory,” Jarvis said.

This helped teams put their knowledge of scientific concepts to use, including Newton’s laws of motion.

“Through this project, students were able to effectively demonstrate their content knowledge, cause and effect in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ physics principles such as momentum and acceleration, and to use a variety of sensors connected to their Lego EV3 robots. They were able to combine all this learning into an integrated project,” Jarvis said.

Students dreamed up their machine using computer-aided drafting software. Part of the goal was to create a comical machine, as the devices are named after a cartoonist who often featured them in his drawings.

The final projects were judged by a panel of community members, former STEM students and faculty. The Rube Goldberg work also provided students the opportunity to work with a materials engineer.

“Every opportunity we have to provide authentic learning experiences to our students through collaboration with community members from the industry is incredibly rewarding,” Jarvis said.

Elizabeth Stephens, materials science engineer, as well as the science and engineering education consultant for the office of STEM education at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said the Rube Goldberg project was a hands-on, enriching experience that allowed students to integrate STEM concepts with a literary connection.

“It helped further their understanding of engineering design as well as develop critical soft skills such as creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and time management to better prepare them for their future,” Stephens said.

A local fish biologist from the Benton County Conservation District also worked closely with middle schoolers in the Kiona-Benton City School District.

Rachel Little taught students how and where to collect organisms and connected the health of river systems to the diversity of invertebrate species living in the water.

Projects and programs supported with the STEM Like ME! grants benefit students from kindergarten through high school.

Also thanks to a STEM Like ME! grant, the youngest students at Kennewick’s Lincoln Elementary are now using coding devices called Bee-Bots.

The simple robots are designed to entice younger children to learn about the building blocks of coding, using sequencing, estimation and problem-solving. Teachers at both Lincoln and Vista Elementary were awarded grants for Bee-Bots.

A project supported at Richland’s Chief Joseph Middle School is allowing seventh-graders to grow food through aeroponic gardening systems.

Following Gov. Jay Inslee’s desire to encourage learning that connects students to potential careers, the project helps provide lessons on agricultural STEM careers, along with nutrition and plant development.

“We are delighted to partner with the Dream Builder’s Foundation and ESD 123 to support dedicated teachers who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of students and bringing STEM career-connected learning into their classrooms,” Dunkirk said. The STEM Like ME! grant application process begins in the fall. Interested educators may apply through ESD 123.

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