Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Engineering an Early Interest in STEM

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Engineering an Early Interest in STEM

Article excerpt

AFFTON * The lesson started with the classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

But with 10 pipe cleaners, the kindergartners were about to learn a little about engineering, a career that could be in their future.

In small groups, the children set out to build their own beanstalks with the materials, trying to make it stand up on its own with no direction from the teacher.

"We're tapping into that natural curiosity. They want to explore," said Sandy Kettelkamp, the head Project Lead The Way teacher at Mesnier Primary.

The lesson was one of a new initiative this year in the Affton School District, an effort that brings science, technology, engineering and math programming into elementary schools.

Affton is one of nine school districts throughout Missouri that now offer Project Lead The Way curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade. Hazelwood, Ritenour, Affton and Jennings also do so in the St. Louis area.

Project Lead The Way is an organization that provides science, technology, engineering and math curriculum and teacher training with the goal of preparing students for eventual jobs in those fields.

Most PLTW curriculum is taught in high school and middle school; this is the first year the organization has offered Launch, its programming for elementary.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that jobs in STEM will grow 17 percent by 2018nearly double the growth for non-STEM fields and that there will be more than 1.2 million jobs without qualified workers to fill them.

Cheryl Ladd, a kindergarten teacher at Mesnier, said the biggest challenge is teaching children skills for jobs that don't exist yet. These lessons have required more creative thinking and problem solving, she said.

"They're thinking outside of the box and explaining their thinking," Ladd said.

On a recent day, Kettelkamp asked the kindergartners in Ladd's class to make a structure like a beanstalk as tall as they could out of the pipe cleaners without it falling over.

"Let's make the roots," said Hailey Alfonso, a kindergartner working with three other children while sitting on a in the classroom. …

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