When Mrs. Rose Warrell’s fourth graders were asked how they enjoyed the math and science project they were working on, one of the students confidently announced, “this isn’t math and science!”. He was wrong, however. The marble maze project he and his team were furiously constructing had everything to do with math and science. Students were asked to build a marble run so that when marbles were placed at the entry point they could calculate speed and velocity. The construction design had parameters though. There were certain pieces that had to be utilized, including objects that could potentially obstruct the speed if not designed well. Design was completely up to the teams.

Each group of four, dumped their supplies on the floor and went to work. When asked how they decided what their track would look like, there were a variety of answers. One student answered first by saying that they sometimes fight about it. Another student followed that comment up by saying,

“ then we just think of an idea that we all like and start over.” Mrs. Warrell has noticed that this activity has provided her students opportunities that textbooks and traditional learning cannot. “They have to practice working together. They talk to each other and work through the problems.”

The ability to problem solve, think critically and creatively has dominated the business world for several years. There isn’t a school or state that hasn’t been challenged to create more opportunities for students to do this kind of learning, which leads to a way of thinking, which leads to a way of working. Companies complain that workers lack the ability to think for themselves and work through issues when they arise. Industry tells us that education needs to provide skills not just degrees. We live in a time when technology is the game changer, but good old fashioned soft skills are still critical to success. Employers want employees with abilities in logic and communication.

Back in Oakley’s fourth grade, students are working on the floor, designing and redesigning their marble projects. Student, Dallin Hardy, reinforced the concept that it wasn’t work, but fun by saying he, “ had fun figuring out how to make the marbles go slower or faster.” And when Bridger Harris was asked how he knew how to design the track, he answered, “it’s in our heads.”

It’s truly in their heads and as teachers integrate more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) into their lessons, students will find that these subjects are all around them and can be fun. Mrs. Warrell notes that science is hands on and simply reading a textbook doesn’t make it relevant for students. Finding different outlets for STEM lessons takes time in class for kids to explore and develop a variety of skills. It can also be loud and messy. It also puts pressure on a teacher to think differently about instruction and how to access resources that aren’t on shelves in classrooms. The stakes are high and education must adapt to provide the needed elements. It may turn out that this Oakley Elementary class is loaded with engineers judging by how quickly their runs were put together and the quick exit times of their marbles. At the very least, they may come to learn that science and math are everywhere and fun to boot.

Debbie Critchfield, of Oakley, is a former member and chairman of the Cassia County School Board and currently serves as District Communications Officer, a member of the Cassia County Republican Central Committee and is an active education volunteer who served on the state technology task force.

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