The Upper Iowa University-Baton Rouge Center has partnered with Copper Mill Elementary School teachers in Zachary to promote STEM programming and projects with young students.
“We want to reach out to local schools to increase the enthusiasm and engagement of students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses and experiential learning at an early age,” said Cynthia Bentley, UIU-Baton Rouge Center director. “STEM-related careers are in high demand in the Baton Rouge area, and we want to encourage more students to enter into these fields of study.
“Our main goal is to help the local schools by forming partnerships and providing financial resources to encourage students to further investigate these fields of education. At the same time, the university hopes that at these younger ages the students come to realize science and math courses can be fun,” Bentley added.
In an effort to further educate the students of Aimee Perrodin’s fifth-grade science classroom on environmental topics, Bentley helped develop the Copper Mill Elementary Greenhouse Project.
As part of the Greenhouse Project, the students were assembled in groups of two and provided supplies to create a working mini-greenhouse. In addition to constructing the greenhouses, the students planted seeds, watered the plants, and transplanted plants whenever possible.
Over a two-month period, the class grew four rounds of plants from their seeds, Bentley said.
“The students learned to design, engineer, problem-solve and redesign throughout the process. Different soils were eventually needed because some seeds just did not grow. This led to several experiments, and the project actually developed into a Mother’s Day gift,” said Perrodin. “The students seemed to especially enjoy the design process and to have the opportunity to view firsthand their successful sprouted plants. Several students even went home to re-create the project with other materials.”
UIU also provided support in Perrodin’s classroom with the “How to Turn Produce into Veggie Power” program. Through the partnership, the university purchased potato clocks and an environmental battery to help the students study energy in the environment.
An additional STEM activity, “Natural vs. Artificial: Can You Taste the Difference?” was sponsored in the classroom of Copper Mill math teacher Ashley Townsend.
“In addition to Mrs. Bentley being instrumental in formulating a plan for our science topic, Upper Iowa made it possible for us to access the needed supplies without having to ask the students’ parents for funding or materials for the project,” said Perrodin. “The more support I have to provide these resources, the more students I can reach with engaging activities.”
While she plans to conduct a similar project in her classroom during the next school year, Perrodin is also considering implementing LEGO kits and robotics for a variety of math- and science-related topics she traditionally teaches.
“I believe STEM education supports students and prepares them for competitive career options. I find this type of group study was more successful because they were more engaged,” said Perrodin. “The rigorous STEM challenges are academically reinforced throughout the year as something we can always reflect on in building new knowledge.”
Due to the success of these programs, Bentley and the UIU-Baton Rouge Center eagerly anticipate continuing to assist with similar activities at Copper Mill in the fall.