It’s not uncommon for Cory Wurst to use rocks and Play-Doh in his classroom.
Wurst, an early childhood and special education major at Edinboro University and a pre-service teacher, understands the importance of tactile learning objects in the classroom. In one lesson, he manipulated Play-Doh to teach elementary students about color blending. In another, he displayed different rocks to show which ones float and which ones sink.
“My students remembered these activities a year later,” said Wurst, who is also a STEM Ambassador at EU. “There’s a big push for STEM in classrooms today. We’re trying to make people more aware of STEM and bring everything together in one place.”
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Ambassadors at Edinboro are dedicated to implementing activities and learning experiences in the contemporary classroom. Working with Elk Valley Elementary School, part of the Girard School District in Girard, Pa., Edinboro students recently presented a STEM expo for Girard-area students and their families. EU students and faculty developed activities based on simple machines for families to explore.
“This is authentic learning experience at its best,” said Mike Trudnowski, principal of Elk Valley Elementary School. “We see the benefits to our families with this free program, and our students can see the joys of learning.”
EVESTOPIA, a four-part STEM expo at Elk Valley, highlights a different simple machine each week. During the third event in the series, elementary students used a series of pulleys arranged throughout the school to lift Humpty Dumpty out of various towers to obtain a code. With the code, the students guided a robot through a maze.
STEM Ambassadors collaborate with students in Dr. Mary Jo Melvin’s children’s literature course and those enrolled in a course focused on mathematics teaching methods for grades 1-4. Students are required to plan and implement a learning activity based on the theme of the event.
“The integration of this school partnership into our established coursework makes everyone's involvement meaningful and relevant,” said instructor Dr. Robert Snyder, who teaches the mathematics methods course.
Trudnowski credits the work of Edinboro students and faculty with expanding STEM outreach in Girard.
“We have a strong relationship with Edinboro University, especially with the pre-graduate students,” he said. “STEM is a direction this country is headed, and we’re trying to merge our students with the experience of the college students. It’s really a win for everybody.”
The STEM Ambassadors program was founded in 2014 to promote STEM instruction in early-childhood education. EU students are appointed to the program based on academic achievement, leadership skills and STEM instruction design.
“Our goal is to create meaningful activities to bring STEM to life for families and children,” said Dr. Linda Best, director of the STEM Ambassadors program. “We can always talk about STEM, but this is a living, breathing STEM experience.”
Brittany Miller, a junior nontraditional student, experiences the STEM program from two perspectives – that of a university student and of a parent. She attended the March 25 event as a STEM Ambassador and also brought along her husband and two elementary-aged children.
“It’s so much fun to get them to think outside the box,” she said. “It’s not just sitting at a desk and learning from a book.”
Miller said she worked closely with Dr. Best and other Edinboro faculty to brainstorm, develop and test the STEM activities. This enhanced her higher-education experience, she said.
“When you think about attending college, a lot of people think you just sit at a desk and are told what to do,” Miller said. “With our professors, we can think, work and collaborate together. It’s fun for the little and ‘big’ kids.”
Courtney Critchfield, who is completing her field teaching experience, enjoys the community aspect of the educational outreach.
“Being able to branch out in the school and community is just amazing,” she said.
EVESTOPIA opened in Elk Valley in January and attracted higher-than-expected turnout of parents and the community. One final event in the series is scheduled for the end of April.
“Our families just love it,” Trudnowski said. “It’s a good way to share STEM products and activities, and allow parents to build upon this experience at home.”
Mardou Locke, who recently relocated to the Girard area with her family, said her daughter, Jade, talks about his experiences at home – well after they leave Elk Valley.
“We’ve always wanted a very solid, well-rounded education for him,” she said. “And this is perfect.”
In addition to Edinboro University, Trudnowski recognizes the following partners for their contribution to EVESTOPIA: Keystone SMILES Americorps, YMCA of Erie, Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC), Kiwanis of Western Erie, Girard High School, Girard School Board and the local business community.
“We couldn’t do this at this level without our partners,” he said.