Full STEAM ahead

Good Hope Primary students enjoying new STEAM Lab

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Kristi Barnette heads up the STEAM Lab at Good Hope Primary School. On Friday, she gave The Tribune a tour of the lab, showing off some of the materials and projects available for her students. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

GOOD HOPE, Ala. – Students at Good Hope Primary School are excited to be back in school and they are especially excited about the school’s new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) Lab. Kristi Barnette is the STEAM Lab teacher at GHPS, which was recently awarded a $3,000 community service grant through Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman’s office to help with STEAM Lab materials including robots, Legos and a new green screen for the students to use with Stikbots to create stories and movies.

GHPS Assistant Principal Wesley Harden said his daughters love the STEAM Lab.

“They love school. Every day I get them in the truck, and I ask them, ‘How was school today?’ Since we started the STEAM Lab, they both have it on Monday, so when they get in the truck on Monday, that’s all they talk about,” he said. “Then we go home and whatever they did in STEAM Lab that day, we get to do it at home, which is fun. My kids love it. My oldest one for sure. She has always wanted to be an eye doctor, but now she wants to be an engineer.”

The students are challenged in the STEAM classroom to work together to solve complex problems and challenges. The lessons are hands-on rather than computer-based, and it introduces children to the many areas of engineering, science and mathematics in a fun and creative way.

Said Barnette, “I tell them, this is something you might want to become because whenever I was in school, it was either a teacher or a nurse. Those were the two I had in mind because that was the only two things I knew. I want these kids to know that there are other areas out there.”

“It just levels the playing field for all our children because some are stronger at reading and some are stronger in math,” Principal Tonya Cupp added “Here, they can be themselves and be creative. It doesn’t matter what their abilities and disabilities are. They love it.”

The classroom has a Lego wall and table for the students to build and create. The grant allowed the school to purchase a variety of robots for the students to work with. The robots can be controlled with an iPad or smartphone, and one can even be controlled with colored markers.

“I wanted them to realize there are types of robots,” said Barnette, who said the lab has Botley, Dash, Ozobot and Sphero robots.

Barnette has planned some fun challenges each month for the students. In October, the kids will design corn mazes to guide the robots through by using the colored markers.

“The color patterns, if you do red-black-red, you can make it turn left,” she said. “Then, if you use another color, you can make it turn right.”

The lab also utilizes common household items for its engineering challenges.

Harden smiled, “Last night, I got the last paper towel. My instinct is to throw the empty roll away, and my first grader said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey, Dad! We don’t throw those away. Those are for Mrs. Barnette and she said to bring those to the STEAM Lab.’”

The items are used in the “Maker Space” area of the classroom, which contains different types of materials for the students to use depending on the challenge.

One of the challenges Barnette demonstrated Friday is the Apple Basket challenge.

She explained, “They have got to make chutes and they are going to have a basket that they have to make. The apples go down the chute and into the basket. If it doesn’t work, they have to figure out why it didn’t work and fix the chute.”

Harden said he loves that the lessons are hands-on away from the phones and computers.

“A lot of kids don’t know how to problem solve,” he said. “They just ask Google.”

The students aren’t the only ones excited; so is their principal.

“We wanted to up the higher order thinking, especially in science and math,” said Cupp. “We can plan for that in reading and some in math but she (Barnette) has really upped the ante. It’s just every day we wonder what she will be doing next week, and the kids just can’t wait. She wants to make sure all the kids get that foundation.”

The lab also provides kids an opportunity to interact with each other and work together as a team rather than to sit isolated at a computer.

Said Cupp, “Teamwork! For 5, 6 and 7 year olds, sometimes as parents- I know I am guilty of this- letting your child win at all times. Sometimes they don’t always win when they play games, but now they work together for one goal so that’s really good for them.”

There are materials you may have at home that the lab can repurpose, such as cereal boxes, all kinds of Styrofoam, water bottles, arts and craft supplies and even those old tubs of Legos. For Halloween, the lab will use film canisters for ghost rockets, and later the students will be making cars out of water bottles. Barnette has even created a fun activity for Thanksgiving using batteries and different colored lights.

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com