The following articles are from Ms. Laurie Roder’s STEM language arts class — published in their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) newsletter. These are the last two articles from this class project in order to explain STEM.

STEM 10: An overview by Natalie Swanson

What comes to mind when people think of STEM? Do they think of lab rats and scientists or maybe robotics? Well, the STEM students want them to hear of STEM and think of opportunities. Opportunities to expand our society and inspire future generations to learn about the world around them and work to improve it.

Students have learned a great deal of things that aren’t just useful in the job aspect of life, but life in general. STEM students have learned how to problem solve, how to work as a team to achieve common goals and how to look at a situation objectively. Layne Smith, a student in the STEM program, enjoyed learning how to work effectively in a group and how it is a much better option than working alone.

The first big project was to build cornhole boards. In teams of two, students went through the constraints and requirements in the classroom, then worked with their partners to brainstorm designs for the inlays that were to be on the front of the cornhole boards. Students then worked out the dimensions for each of the parts and drew them on Autodesk Inventor, so that students would know how they would fit together and what the finished product should look like. Next, students went to work in the wood shop, gathered materials, measured, cut, drilled, sanded and assembled. The inlays were problematic, using the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) router to cut them into the board face and also cut out the individual pieces that went into the board face. This came with a large learning curve, being the first year with the CNC router. Smith also enjoyed learning how to operate machines that she otherwise wouldn’t have.

Other projects include creating train models on Autodesk and getting them to roll on a virtual track and presentations on various topics related to STEM jobs for the convention at M-State. In the Junkyard Wars project, groups created a device to move cinderblocks in a post-apocalyptic scenario; this device was made from scrap materials and the design was subject to our individual creativity and ingenuity.

Overall, STEM 10 projects were, at times, trial and error; both students and teachers learned a lot from the experience and are now able to move forward into our STEM 11 year with a clearer, more refined approach to STEM education.

What is STEM 11 up to? by Layne Smith

STEM 11 is the opportunity for grade 10 students to continue their learning about STEM fields. Almost every member that was in STEM 10, including interviewee Natalie Swanson, is in STEM 11. The combined STEM 10 and 11 classes have done only one collaborative project this year, which was the STEM Homecoming float. Swanson explained that her favorite project this year has been the parade float because the all the STEM Academy students got to work together on it. There will also be some more collaborative efforts this year.

The STEM 11 students have started many projects already, like “dog bones,” which are posts of differing metals that are threaded on both ends in the shape of an hourglass.

Soon they will be testing the strength of these dog bones with a stress analyzer that will test how long they can be stretched without breaking. Individually, they had to design a car that could fit within the dimensions of a “Thomas the Train” track and make a 180 degree turn; plus, go as fast as it could down a track in a drag race. The cars were 3D printed, and had to be within one cubic inch.

STEM 11 also has a military theme. Soon they will be learning about Julius Caesar in their English class, and where it will then tie into their fabrication and principles of engineering and design classes. Other projects may include welding shields, family crests and creating trebuchets or catapults. Already they have begun to design projectile launchers with specific constraints, but not everything goes according to plan.

Swanson would like to see more collaborative projects from the STEM teachers and suggests student work with teachers to create a lesson plan or project for the year.

STEM 11 is a great program for anyone who is interested.

“If you’re seriously considering it, just join before it’s too late, so you can check it out. Wear clothes you don’t care about, prepare to work as a team, bring a pencil and a hair tie, relax, use a planner, closed toed shoes are a good idea and have an open mind with a good attitude,” is the advice Swanson would give those interested in STEM 11.

It is also perfect for anyone who enjoys learning about various STEM fields and is interested in continuing their research.

Jerry Ness is the superintendent of Fergus Falls Public Schools. His column appears every Wednesday.

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