Robots, computers and more await students at STEM SLAM 2011

Charlie Koenig - Posted on Aug 03, 2011 - 05:11 PM

Most kids wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near a school in the middle of summer, unless they had to. But STEM SLAM 2011 is nothing like your typical summer school program.

For three days next week, 24 rising fourth through seventh graders will be attending the inaugural year of a program at Thomas Hunter Middle School that promises lots of hands-on fun, as youngsters learn about computer programming, robotics and agriculture, according to Lesley Hunley, coordinator of gifted education for Mathews County Public Schools.

STEM SLAM is an acronym that stands for Science Technology, Engineering, Math—Science Language, Art, Math. And although the division’s gifted coordinator is overseeing the program, it’s open to all Mathews students.

The students will be divided into groups of eight, with each group spending time at one of three modules where they will work on fun and challenging projects.

"It’s amazing what these teachers are going to try to accomplish in three days," Hunley said. "They have really high expectations." With such a small student-to-teacher ratio and the freedom offered by these extracurricular classes, they may just exceed those expectations.

But don’t expect dull, dry lectures. "We don’t have desks," Hunley said, referring to the school building’s summer refurbishing. "We don’t expect them to be putting in a lot of seat time."

Instead, during each hour and 15-minute rotation, they will be solving problems, playing games and maybe learning a thing or two in the process. At the first center, instructional technology resource specialist Suzanne Sopko and fifth grade science teacher Cindy Machen will teach the youngsters about engineering concepts as they work on robotics based on LEGO League competition.

Machen is especially looking forward to constructing and playing with the LEGO robots. "I think she’s going to have as much fun as the kids," Hunley said.

In the second lab, 4-H Extension agent Nancy Roche will involve the youngsters in the science and math of agriculture and modern farming techniques. Hunley said that Roche has developed a number of hands-on activities to keep the students excited.

Technology coordinator Bill Vrooman and computer instructor Edith Turner will handle the final rotation, where students will learn the basics of computer programming and 3D modeling, using two free programs—Scratch and SketchUp.

Students will be provided lunch and transportation—all for free. In addition, they will receive a STEM SLAM T-shirt. The Northrop Grumman Corporation provided an initial grant of $1,000, with the White Trust adding another $5,000, Hunley said.