For the past seven years, my district has held an enrichment opportunity for students in grades fifth through ninth grade called STEM Summer Institute. This unique program has been funded by a Department of Defense Education Activity Grant. Manhattan, Kansas is next to Fort Riley Army Base and the district strives to support the distinctive needs of our military children. With that in mind, this STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) summer program allows students to practice hands-on STEM activities in a relaxed environment. Local students select one class for each week in June (our school year ends by Memorial Day).
Offerings vary each year, but grades 5 and 6 have different options than grades 7 through 9. This year our 317 learners are enrolled in twenty-three different classes; thirteen choices for the younger students and ten choices for the middle school students. Each course is held in the mornings, Mondays through Thursdays. For example, if a child is enrolled in all four weeks, they would have the opportunity to experience a wide range of hands-on STEM activities in four different classes. Since the sessions are held on campus at Kansas State University, students ride a bus from several pick up sites around town.
Our June classes are limited to fifteen students if instructed by one local teacher, whereas eighteen students are allowed in classes co-taught by two adults. The second adult is either a college professor, STARBASE or area technical college instructor.
This is a collaborative project with my district and Kansas State University’s College of Education. During the summer, traditional field placement of pre-service teachers is difficult to locate. With STEM Summer Institute, these college students gain quality contact time within a real classroom with real students. They observe the experienced teacher each week, and by the fourth week are able to conduct the instruction. Since classes only meet Mondays through Thursdays, the KSU teaching teams meet with the local cooperating teacher each Friday to plan and reflect on the week.
Having the opportunity to hold classes in a number of Kansas State University buildings allows students to visit college laboratories. Teachers also invite professors to share their knowledge through demonstrations or activities. Some examples include: the state climatologist talking to the weather classes about the formation of tornadoes and producing a tornado in her special box; a physics professor providing hands-on experiences for the K’Nex roller coaster groups; the assistant college soccer coach sharing how to maneuver a ball for the science of sports crowd. Some of our offerings have co-instructors that are college professors and thus classes meet in their departments (City of Mine craft is in Construction Science, Vet Med is held in the Veterinary College of Medicine, both Mighty Micro Controllers and Simulating The Martian in Department of Computer Science, Passive Solar Architecture and Grain Science). Advantages are extensive, but most notably our students are able to access the same equipment as college students.
STEM Summer Institute is not only a collaborative project with the local university, but with the community as well. Our local D.o.D. STARBASE instructors share their knowledge with fifth graders during the schoolyear and offer a robotics class to summer students. Manhattan Area Technical College opens their doors to our seventh and eighth graders to explore career paths offered at the site. Riley County Police Department stages a crime scene for the C.S.I. groups every week. Soldiers from Fort Riley Army Base share STEM options within the Army at the end of June.
As technology changes, so does our offerings. We have added an indoor drone technology and electronics textile classes. This June, we added programs focused on arts to allow the pre-service teachers more chances to practice in their field. Students will explore science fiction writing, build in a maker space, and learn how music and science are connected.