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Outside the box: STEM program at elementary school preps students for future

Fourth grader Lily Fiddler and several other students set up a track to learn how to maneuver robots during STEM class at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School. (photo Kim Brasel/FOCUS). 1 / 6
STEM encourages creativity using everything from the high tech to the low tech. Second graders at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School utilize cereal boxes to build planes, cars and mailboxes. (photo Kim Brasel/FOCUS).2 / 6
Teacher Jena Rosemore works with second grader Levi Suhl during STEM class at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School. (Kim Brasel/FOCUS).3 / 6
Fourth Graders Lily Fiddler (left) and Jillian Bain use iPads to give their robots commands during STEM class. (Kim Brasel/FOCUS).4 / 6
Second Grader Levi Suhl works on a coding game during STEM class at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School. (photo Kim Brasel/FOCUS).5 / 6
Heart of the Lakes Elementary School STEM teach Jena Rosemore and second grader Edwin Morales Gonzales talk over his plan to build a lawn mower during the Friday morning STEM class. (Kim Brasel/FOCUS).6 / 6

Letting kids explore their creativity and seeing them excel is what motivates Heart of the Lakes Elementary School teacher Jena Rosemore, and she's excited to see the school's STEM program gaining momentum every year.

STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math, and schools around the country are finding ways to incorporate it into the academic day to enrich student's learning.

"If the teachers tell me they have a certain topic they are working on in science, I can find a STEM project that deals with that," Rosemore said. "STEM is math and science, but it is also reading. You can combine it into anything, that's what I love about it."

She added that teachers have been doing STEM type work in the classroom for a long time, but she thinks there is just more of a spotlight on it right now, perhaps because of all the technology that can be used to teach it.

Rosemore sees classes on about a two and half week rotation on Fridays for STEM class.

After Mrs. Rosemore gives the kids the okay to spread out and pick a project in the classroom, some go high tech and head for the ipads and get to coding, others pick the robots, and some go old school: cardboard boxes and tape.

Teaching STEM concepts doesn't have to be all about the gizmos and gadgets, it's as much about putting their minds to work and seeing what they can come up with on their own, as Rosemore demonstrates when kids ask her to do something for them. She turns the question around and asks them to show her what it is they want to accomplish.

Second grader Edwin Mendoza-Gonzales said he enjoys the STEM class because he has fun learning about science. "I also like to build things. Today I am building a lawn mower," he said as he worked on transforming what was once a cereal box, into his new found gadget.

"It's amazing what they can do when you let them explore their interests, and it benefits them in so many ways — it brightens my day," Rosemore said. "And even creating, it doesn't have to be all about the technology. Edwin likes to build and design. It's great to see how creative they can be."

On the tech end of things, Rosemore is grateful for some generous donations that allowed her to purchase a variety of activities, including iPads with various games that include an intro to coding for kids as young as kindergarten.

Coding is the basis for creating computer software, apps and websites.

"The 549 Foundation has been a huge help for the classroom. I was able to purchase five robots for the older kids this year, and then we have robots for the primary students and coding mice. All of it is very beneficial," she added.

This is Rosemore's second year, and she said the benefits of having a designated STEM program include funding, it takes some stress of the classroom teachers, and it introduces students to things that they are going to see in middle school and high school, such as coding or circuit boards.

"Coding is a job option for the future, and it might sound silly talking about it in third and fourth grade, but if they find an interest in that and can excel in it..." Rosemore said. "Circuit boards could lead to an interest in robotics, and there is the opportunity for robotics in high school."

It also opens opens up funding opportunities, which will help with future projects Rosemore would like to get off the ground. Next year she would like to have a STEM fair on conference night so that parents can see what the kids are doing.

"The fun part is getting them to explore different topic,s and it's pretty awesome to see what they enjoy," she said. "I think they really enjoy the hands on learning. I can't wait to see the program grow and figure out what else I can learn to improve it."