Columbia, SC – In February of this year USGBC SC staff had the privilege of being invited by Dr. David Holzendorf (principal) and Dr. Sally Catoe (STEMS Lead Teacher) to tour North Springs Elementary School. North Springs Elementary School has a special magnet program called STEMS (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math School). STEMS, educates the whole child by incorporating the core curriculum and the arts into STEM content curricula. North Springs Elementary has been in existence for thirty years with a focus on STEMS for the past four years. For the last two years they have won national recognition from the Magnet Schools of America as a Magnet School of Distinction. The school is very proud of its students and their school’s design. The school’s design and layout features a rectangle shape in the middle where the common areas are. The classrooms are off the main hallways; therefore they are quiet and the perfect learning environment. Each grade level of the magnet program has two classrooms, each with 22 students. The classrooms are clustered together, enhancing teamwork and collaboration. We visited several of the classrooms and interacted with the student groups who were hard at work doing hands-on projects and problem solving.
Kindergarteners worked in centers, using computers, solving design problems on the SmartBoard, using K’Nex pieces to make a spinning top, and building with LEGOS.
The second grade classes were busy teaching first graders to build and program robotic animals, combining math and science in the process. These students were paired into small groups where they programmed small motors on a computer to control their robots. The second graders had just finished studying sea lions and built habitat models for a planned new exhibit at River Banks Zoo. They presented their model sea lion homes to the zoo staff and other directors. We also had the honor of seeing a presentation. The model habitat is very nice and spacious, and I think any sea lion would love to live there.
The third grade classes were working on science and math. They were combining the two to build a model playground. The group I observed was busy working on a drainage system for their playground. The group stopped long enough to explain to me that their design would allow any amount of rain water to run off, so the kids could play tomorrow, after the rain, on the playground. Apparently this is a really big problem for elementary school students, so they are taking matters into their own hands.
The fourth grade classes were busy inventing their own candy. With this project they were combining language art skills with math. In addition to creating the candy they had to design the box shape, create an ad to sell the candy and create a marketing plan using sales projections. I witnessed a lot of young budding Entrepreneurs in the making.
The fifth grade classes were learning how we impact the environment while learning about measurements. They had just completed making model buildings from straws and were now focusing on designing a building from recycled wooden pallets. While learning about the environment, they were also learning how to knit – yes, knit. Their teacher explained that if their hands were busy they absorbed and learned more at a faster rate while improving their small motor skills. The completed knitting projects (scarves) are donated to the homeless via homeless shelters. This kind act is another example of how students impact the human environment and make a difference.
The STEMS program has plans to create a study on energy conservation and Green building, with each grade level examining a different energy problem. If you are interested in taking part in this unique way of learning through problem solving and hands-on projects, please contact Dr. Sally Catoe at email@example.com to discuss what your partnership can contribute to this study. The program’s philosophy is that through real world connections, students will develop the skills and knowledge to be the innovative engineers of the future.
For more information on North Springs Elementary School and the STEMS magnet program, please visit: https://www.richland2.org/nse/.