College of Science and Engineering
SCSU program aims to plant STEM interest
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Robots and three-dimensional printers are one way to get elementary school students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics.
Students at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Richmond experienced just that in their final week before Christmas break. They were visited by T&E Express, a program through St. Cloud State University that provides curriculum and equipment to encourage interest in STEM fields.
Chuck Hentges, instructor in environmental and technological studies at St. Cloud State University, led the students as their teachers helped.
Schools need to get students interested at a young age to spark an interest, Hentges said. That could result in a student choosing a STEM-related career.
The students designed ornaments via a computer program that were then printed using a 3D printer. They also got a demonstration in robotics.
Hentges helped in Richmond and has two students in the school. His wife, Julie, also volunteered for the first time with the project.
Bob Steffen, who works with the T&E Express program as a project coordinator, was also there to help kids use the software.
“Chuck does a really good job,” he said.
The computer program isn’t simplified for the students. It is a full one that can be used at the college level. Steffen is used to providing the technology and curriculum to teachers, but doesn’t always attend the sessions.
“I’m a lending program,” he said.
“A lot of times I don’t go out and do teaching,” Steffen said. The goal is to get the teachers teaching the curriculum, aided by the technology the schools couldn’t afford themselves.
Steffen said the program was an important one.
“This gives students opportunities that they might not get otherwise,” he said. “Like access to the 3D printer.”
The opportunities he provides open a lot of options for a lot of students, he said.
“To me education should be fun,” he said. “It’s a win-win all the way around.”
The program that day was just a snippet of what St. Cloud State University offers students, he said.
Fourth-grade teacher Paula Thelen has taught at the school for 14 years.
“It’s very cool,” she said. “The kids are just so excited.”
She prepped students for the lesson by talking about what STEM stood for and why it was important.
She said the students were picking up the program pretty quickly.
Principal Jacqueline Walz said it was fun to see students’ enthusiasm.
School officials are evaluating how the school’s curriculum handles STEM and are studying ideas for progress.
“It’s a learning experience for teachers and me, as well as the students,” she said.
story by Stephanie Dickrell
SC Times, Jan. 2, 2013