Curious parents and other visitors from around the Emporia community were treated to a showcase of knowledge and creativity Tuesday during Village Elementary School’s first-ever STEAM Showcase.
Throughout the afternoon, third- through fifth-grade students exhibited their expertise in a range of fields involving the application of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics by presenting their chosen projects to the public with the help of their fellow classmates. As around 75 students in total participated, many of the displays were as varied and unique as the individuals behind them.
A majority of the projects involved the theme of energy, its various forms and the ways it can be effectively harnessed and utilized.
“This took us about two to three months,” said third-grader Takeo Medrano, who constructed a model wind turbine with his friend and classmate, Logan Thexton. “We could only make our project out of stuff like cardboard and wires instead of metal, so it took us a bit longer to build.”
“This solar cell captures the sun’s rays to turn them into electricity and power the houses,” added Bianca Umana, who guided visitors through a mini, energy-dependent town she and her friends built and painted.
Other students broadened the scope of the topic, choosing ideas that would let them work more closely with mediums of art and even sound.
“My project was to show the transfer of sound by trying to break a wine glass with instruments,” said student Daniel Guzman, who received assistance from students in Emporia State University’s music department during his studies. “I put a straw in the glass to help determine the frequency, and I found that the wine glass had a frequency of about 525 hertz ... We did end up hitting the right frequency — the cup and the straw both moved — but it didn’t break.”
While the exhibition allowed students plenty of room for expression and ingenuity, the broader goal behind the weeks of study and work was to expose them to some of the real-world applications of their learning.
“Mr. (John) Martin, our principal, and myself developed the STEAM program last year to try to see how we could incorporate project-based learning that may help kids in real-world jobs down the line,” Village Elementary STEAM Educator and Program Facilitator Annisa Lord said. “We like to think about it like the career pathway studies and programs they have at the high school, except with a focus on elementary students.”
While building her curriculum, Lord studied a distinct drop in the number of high school students applying for skilled labor jobs. She soon came to focus on ways of alleviating the problem, even going as far as inviting community members into her class to give students a rundown of power tool safety tips and strategies.
“Some of those skilled labor jobs pay more than a job you might get through earning a college degree,” Lord said. “When we realized high school students weren’t actively seeking this type of position anymore, I started backtracking. I found that students at this level didn’t really know what an engineer does, or what an electrician does. Maybe they had a dad that worked in construction, but they didn’t know what that meant. From there, we designed a program that we wanted to have real-world applications for real-world problems, such as topics involving forms of renewable and non-renewable energy.”
In the coming months, Lord said she hopes to expand her STEAM program to encompass additional opportunities for future employment, hand-based skills and — of course — teamwork and group collaboration. She encourages community members to be involved in the process as well.
“You may never truly reach 100 percent engagement in the classroom, but for the first time in my whole teaching career, we’re approaching that with these projects.” Lord said. “Students have been so driven to learn and become experts in their chosen fields with very little help from me … To members of the community, I would just ask that they let us know if they have any more ideas for future initiatives or projects. We are community-driven, so this can go way beyond just a student’s school community. If there’s anything people need help with, we want them to reach out to Village Elementary, because we can help things happen, whether it be for an organization, business or an individual family.”