BYU: STEM Club Builds Science Learning for Kids and Teachers | News, Sports, Jobs

Courtesy South Franklin Community Center

Student looks at drone from visiting BYU Drone Club.

Within the cheerful, art-covered walls of the South Franklin Community Center, the people of south Provo find resources, programs and a sense of community. One of the center’s main benefits is an after-school STEM club run by BYU McKay School professor Ryan Nixon.

The STEM club is held once a week at the community center and about 15-20 students between the ages of 4 and 14 participate regularly. According to Stephanie Anderson, director of the South Franklin Community Center, the STEM Club is one of the community center’s most popular classes. The club provides enrichment activities for students and contributes to closing a significant achievement gap in STEM for underserved populations.

The club’s teachers, current McKay School elementary students, plan lessons around the students’ interests and cover a wide range of topics including aviation, agriculture, anatomy, engineering and chemistry.

“A program like this is great because it’s a service to the community and it helps the kids who attend — but it’s also beneficial to the students at McKay School,” Nixon said. “Not only do they have a job, they’re getting learning experience.”

Two McKay School elementary education students plan lessons and teach the program at any given time. Additionally, a lead teacher has been running the STEM Club program for about a year now.

Courtesy South Franklin Community Center

Student in STEM Club makes Oobleck.

“My colleagues and I have had to learn how to create lessons that will be engaging for children of all ages,” said Elizabeth Tagg, a McKay School student who has taught at the center since August 2021. “I have grown so much in my scientific knowledge as well as my love of science.”

McKay School student Emily Zumwalt says the club is a unique learning experience. “Having students ranging in age from 4 to 14 years old, we have had to be accommodating in our lesson planning so that our teaching reaches all ages,” she said.

Both Tagg and Zumwalt focus their teaching on interactive learning and experimentation. “With each of these experiments, we want children to learn, not through direct instruction, but through the observations they find,” Zumwalt says.

In a recent social media check, Tagg shared a lesson he taught students about the rock cycle using Starburst candies. Students manipulated their starbursts at all steps of the cycle, including fusing them together to form simulated “metamorphic rock,” melting them into “magma,” and cooling molten candy into “igneous rock.”

That level of creativity is pretty standard, according to Zumwalt: “Some of my favorite experiments have been a simulated space mission where students needed to rescue someone stranded on Mars, visiting the BYU Paleontology Museum, and learning about dinosaurs. different and how people have found. them on rocks and building our own Rube Goldberg machines.”

Courtesy South Franklin Community Center

Students in the STEM club trace their upper body.

While these experiments and activities may seem like a mundane pastime to attendees, the STEM Club can help bridge a troubling achievement gap. Research has shown that while students in underserved populations—minority, low-income, and/or first-generation college students—express the same interest in STEM subjects and careers as the general student population, their levels of achievements lag far behind those of other demographics. groups.

A report on STEM subjects and underserved students by the American College Testing Association determined that students with only one underserved characteristic show lower readiness for STEM studies than their peers. Students with two characteristics have STEM readiness that is 20% lower than average, and when all three characteristics are present, the rate is 34% lower.

Groups like the STEM Club are helping to bridge that achievement gap, one star-studded lesson at a time. Club members not only have fun, but also prepare for their academic future.

“Participants love exploring STEM-related activities, problem solving, being physically active, and learning!” says Stephanie Anderson. “The activities are well prepared, the staff is knowledgeable, and they offer field trips and family activities.”


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