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The Connected K-5 STEM Lab

STEM Fellows at Southern Champion Tray

There I stood. On the production floor of Southern Champion Tray in Chattanooga. Amazed at the ballet of movement occurring on machine after machine as paper boxes were stamped, glued, folded, stacked, and off-loaded. Lunch trays for schools out west, boxes with windows for a bakery, clam shell containers for hamburgers. Off to my right was a forest of light cardboard paper rolls as round as small redwood trees and stacked two to three stories tall.

The technology of robotic arms in motion used enough math to fill several notebooks. Raw materials represented the sum of paper industry science at it’s best. Design studios along one wall applied the discipline of engineering to every container in production. As a member of the Public Education Foundation’s 4th STEM Teacher Fellows cohort, I wanted to capture all I could see from this cohort outing and repackage it for consumption by the Kindergarten through 5th grade students I taught every day. But how?

A few months later our cohort participated in a Bright Spark design thinking process workshop focused on reimagining gift giving. It was not really about gift giving. It was about learning how to think differently to bring innovation to even the most common of tasks (like the value of interfacing with our business community). That “field trip” and design thinking lead to a breakthrough bringing the real world of work to our elementary STEM Lab connection.

The Plan: Approach five local businesses requesting permission to feature them in our STEM Lab this year. The program is simple: 1) A story told. This is a media presentation that tells each business’s unique story. 2) A lesson learned. Using actual company data, age appropriate lessons would be developed with emphasis on science, math, engineering or some combination of the three for students to complete. 3) A problem solved. Request each business provide us with a real world business challenge they are working to resolve. In turn the students will submit their solutions to the businesses for review and feedback.

The result: The five businesses we approached enthusiastically agreed to participate as a featured business in our STEM Lab. They represent the fields of aviation, premiere rope manufacture, startup entrepreneur, fast food industry, and hardware/home improvement.

The downstream affect of my participation in the PEF STEM cohort is allowing all of our students to interface with local businesses in a meaningful way.

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