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Posted By Becky Backhaus On January 26, 2018

Join me on this journey of discovery this year!
First stop: Edgerton School District, Community Elementary STEM Lab, Edgerton, WI

I can’t think of one school district that I have worked within the last 5 years that has not had STEM, STEaM or now even STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Art, and Math) spaces and resources on their top 5 list of priorities when they talk about Facility Planning. So this New Year as I, along with the rest of the world, planned out my goals for 2018, I decided I am going to make it a priority to really take a deep dive on learning as much as I can about STEM spaces. The more I learn, the more I can help districts achieve their goals. I can already tell I have given myself an assignment that my whole family with benefit from!

My office has turned into a mini-STEM lab of its own these past couple of weeks. My co-workers walk by wondering “what is she up to now?” as they see me making catapults, cranes, and spinners out of Legos. Today, I am learning how to use the Osmo, a fun little award-winning tool that connects to my iPad and has interactive games that read what you are doing on your desk –this gaming system has games for coding, creative drawing, tangrams, words, and numbers. It is geared for ages 4 to 12, but I can’t stop playing with it, and I won’t tell you how old I am. If you have not seen these yet, check them out- they are pretty amazing!

Why have I turned my office into this fun zone? Well, I decided the best way to kick-off my STEM goal for the year would be to have JP Cullen’s booth theme at the State Education Convention follow suit and offer a glimpse of the STEM experience with some interactive activities for kids of all ages.  Because who wants to go to an exhibit hall and walk past another boring booth with pens and brochures? (Hint: no one.) The convention wrapped up at the end of last week, and our booth was everything I dreamed it would be with a large Lego and magnetic wall that invited conference attendees in to start creating, Osmo on display to test out, Lego activities and overall great discussion on STEM in schools.


So how did I plan for my mini-STEM lab?  I went straight to the Edgerton School District STEM lab that has been showcased in the news this past year and spent some time with Sheila Fox, the Gifted and Talented Coordinator for the District. It just so happens that my kids are lucky enough to go to this school so I brought my son along, and he was happy to help give mom the tour. Hearing about the STEM lab from the voice of my fourth-grader gave me the opportunity that we sometimes don’t get as parents – to really listen and see what they are learning when they are away from us all day.  Better than the standard – Mom: “How was school? Tell me about your day.” Kid: “I played basketball at recess” or “ate pizza dippers for lunch” – kind of conversation.

During the tour, my son told me how they are building bridges out of newspaper, playing spatial math games, coding, figuring out probabilities, designing and printing with the 3D printer – the list goes on and on. I learned that Mrs. Fox has her elementary level curriculum divided into three categories:

  1. Problem-solving and Critical Thinking
  2. Computer Science and Coding
  3. Engineering and Design

The room itself is so inviting and really lends itself to be creative and think outside the box.  There are 6 moveable, counter-height tables in the middle, each their own color with fun, ergonomic seats for the kids. Every table has storage for the many games Mrs. Fox has for students in grades K through 5. There is a Lego wall, magnetic boards, a carpet area with smartboard where Mrs. Fox can spend some time teaching the students about what they are going to work on in her class and a technology zone with a real Robot appropriately named “Wellman”(pictured at top of article).  Mr. Wellman is the principal at Community Elementary and fully supported the creation of the STEM lab, which is all funded by community dollars by the way. Go Edgerton, way to support your schools!

When I asked Mrs. Fox what she likes the most about her new space and curriculum, she said, “The best way I can describe it is this: the activities that we have here really make the kids think outside-the-box, learn to solve problems in different ways, and seeing them working together as a team to come up with a solution is the best part, because for me those are real-life skills. You need to work with teammates throughout life, so seeing them put their heads together to come up with ideas and solutions has been the best part of this experience.”

I think I could spend a week straight in Mrs. Fox’s STEM lab and not even scratch the surface on all the learning games and activities she has to offer. So I have decided, I am giving my notice – sorry JP Cullen – I would like to subtract 30 years from my age and GO BACK TO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!! Ah, I wish! But seriously, if you are considering creating a STEM space in your current facility or planning for the future, I think Mrs. Fox’s STEM lab is a good place to start, you can follow her on Facebook.

I could describe it for you in more detail but then it would be a book, not a blog, so here is a visual tour:

Where should my next stop be? Email me your ideas or check back to see my next STEM tour stop!

Becky is the Creative Director at JP Cullen. She works primarily with K12 clients on communications and graphic design for their pre-referendum needs.

Filed Under Education, JP Cullen