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Students tour STEM program in hopes of starting their own

STEM instructor Jason Sosa (right) shows students during a tour Monday the multi-rotor drones his students use while learning about automation.

STEM instructor Jason Sosa (right) shows students during a tour Monday the multi-rotor drones his students use while learning about automation.

Students from Jemison Elementary and Thorsby Elementary schools toured The Academy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at LeCroy Career Technical Center on Monday.

Hilary McKinney, who teaches enrichment classes at Jemison and Thorsby, said the tour was designed to spark students’ and parents’ interest in developing a STEM program for elementary grades.

“We hope to start some kind of STEM for the elementary level,” McKinney said. “This is sort of a preliminary for that. We need lots of community and parent support.”

Third and fourth graders from JES and third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders from TES saw and tested out pieces of equipment robotics students use at LCTC, including multi-rotor drones, three-dimensional printers and VEX robots.

“We know if we can get them interested at this level, they’re not going to forget,” LCTC Director Tommy Glasscock said.

McKinney said the schools would have to apply for and receive grant money to fund an elementary STEM program.

In the program, students would use Lego Education robotics, McKinney said.

“Lego has competitions if we use their equipment,” she said.

A program could launch sometime in 2014 if enough funding and support are secured.

McKinney said she hopes to start in the spring with a county- or school-wide robotics competition in conjunction with LCTC’s Academy of STEM.

“There are just many possibilities,” McKinney said and added she and others wanting to be involved in forming a new program would meet this year and make a long-term plan.

Chilton County would not be the only school system to have a STEM program for elementary grades.

An elementary STEM program would help prepare students for robotics courses in high school and possibly careers in fields like science and engineering after graduation.

“Hands-on, project-based education helps develop hand-eye coordination, critical thinking and problem solving,” McKinney said. “At this age, it’s good for their development to do that hands-on learning. It makes the children stay interested in school.”

Like The Academy of STEM, the elementary program would encourage group work as opposed to just working individually.

“There’s a synergy of working together in groups,” McKinney said. “That is a real-world simulation because they’re not going to be able to work alone in the real world.”

To get involved with the formation of a STEM program for elementary students, contact McKinney at (205) 280-4820 or hhmckinney@chilton.k12.al.us.