A Leap Forward with STEM Integration

Susan Harris, former Fremont County Youth Coordinator, and Mandy Maher, Fremont County Program Coordinator, spent 6 months learning about STEM Education through the help of Carma McLaren, a consultant with Gifted Education Solutions, LLC.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The STEM initiative came about in the United States because highly qualified candidates for STEM-related careers were difficult to find. The US was recruiting from other countries to find the talent required for certain fields. The Department of Education is now focused on efforts to maintain a domestic group of citizens that is more able to focus on STEM specialties.
While schools are forced to teach a broad range of topics in a limited amount of time, 4-H is in a unique position that allows 4-Hers to slow down and dig deeper into what interests them outside of the school setting. 4-H STEM allows youth to work on their questions, design their own tests, create their own models, build their understanding, and share their work with others.
As Mandy and Susan learned more and more about STEM Education, they found that other counties were offering specialty clubs focused on robotics, wind energy, or other scientific applications. From that, the Fremont County Robotos robotics club was formed. While the new club was wildly successful in regional competition, finding enough kids and leaders to commit to it was a challenge. Another issue was the cost of a new start-up club. Mandy and Susan put their heads together and wondered if STEM already existed in the projects that were popular in Fremont County. They decided to integrate STEM education into the projects that everyone was already enjoying.
That's when Carma McLaren came on board. Mandy and Susan, as well as Kerry Aistrope, an Extension Council member, were familiar with Carma's work from her time with the Area Education Agency as a Talented & Gifted consultant. Kerry knew that she'd recently started her own consulting business and thought she'd be the perfect guide through STEM integration. Exhausting brainstorming sessions followed as the team hammered out a plan to help 4-Hers identify the STEM elements in the projects they would be doing.  By using the scientific model as a starting point, the Stem-O-Gram and its explanation were developed.  Printed as a single page, front/back document, the STEM-O-Gram is designed to guide 4-Hers through project development. 
Using the STEM-O-Gram, 4-Hers are encouraged to start with a question or a problem.  Sometimes that question or problem might be simple; “I would like to know how to sew.”  Other times, it might be more complex, “My pictures are often blurry.  I want to learn how to take a crisp photo,”  or, "my cat sheds too much and I'm wondering if there is a way to control shedding."  Once the problem, need or question has been identified, the youth would move into the planning stage, giving thought to their goals, timeline, resources, process and audience.  The next steps include choosing and creating a project entry.  Once the entry is finished, the 4-Her is asked to reflect, or evaluate the project entry and record their thoughts on its success and what was learned.  It is in this step that 4-Hers are asked to identify the STEM elements used.  For example, in a sewing project, one would use STEM when he took various measurements, engineered the garment, or made use of the technology of a modern sewing machine.  Cooking is nothing more than an edible science experiment.  Photography is a lesson in technology, in and of itself.  The final step includes sharing with others what was learned through project development.  This could include a club presentation or simply presenting the final project to a fair judge.  It also includes a write-up for the 4-H Record Book.
Susan identified the need to revamp record book write-ups.  She was often told that it was frustrating to write everything out for the project entry only to have to turn around a few months later and write it again for the record book.  She wanted to create a document that doubled as a project entry form and project area record book entry.  The first draft was too long, so after many more drafts, a single page, front/back document was crafted.  4-Hers can hand-write or type-write the contents and add pictures or other inserts as they desire.  A second page serves as a supplement for the record book, but does not require the duplication of any information that is already entered on the project entry form.
A write-up is encouraged in all project areas.  The team believes that the greatest learning is achieved during reflection.  However, it is not required in any projects that didn’t previously require one.
Anyone with questions, concerns or suggestions is encouraged to contact the ISU Extension & Outreach Office in Fremont County at 712-374-2351 or email xfremont@ iastate.edu.
STEM-O-Gram Explanation
New & Improved Write-Up Form

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