On a gray and rainy fall day, fourth-grade students at Eastbrook Elementary School explore Moore Road Farm, located in the northwest side of Indianapolis. Discovery comes to life at STEM Connection, which sprang up on the 30-acre outdoor learning site in the summer of 2014 with a tent and port-a-potty and has reached 5,000 children a year, when there is no pandemic.
That day, students stop for a hike and look up into the treetops to see a giant eagle’s nest. Two students build a small “farm” of earth, stones and leaves before adding water to learn how to keep it strong and protected from erosion. Students use a magnifying glass to understand how a variety of rocks formed, how they are similar and how they are different. Then, magnifying glasses become tools for looking at oneself, looking at their hands and fingers, looking at their environment.
They explore with every step.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. At The STEM Connection, Founder and Executive Director Vera Vander Kooy says STEM is used in all things. The nonprofit learning organization, with a variety of ecosystems, targets Kindergarten to Grade 5, but it also believes in nurturing and empowering with professional development of educators as well as training middle, high school and college students to become mentors.
Children engage in outdoor activities in all weather conditions using science to study the world around them, using any tool that helps them work, such as a ruler or measuring cup.
The STEM Connection uses the same STEM skills they teach, being flexible and not afraid to fail, but pivoting to improve, grow, reach others.
When COVID hit, this belief system kicked in. COVID has become the catalyst for learning to teach differently, how to reach people differently, launch educational videos online, build kits with supplies for children to use at home, reach people across the state and across the country. nationwide.
Vander Kooy is passionate about STEM education and making a difference for young people, including reaching underrepresented people: girls, those with limited access, children of color, and those with ‘unique’ needs or special. It aims to make The STEM Connection a place for everyone, as STEM skills are used in everything. The ultimate goal is to guide children in learning to face a future no one can even imagine, using STEM tools to face challenges with confidence.
STEM can do it, says Vander Kooy. It can solve problems in a world that is continually changing faster. She and her staff provide a safe place to fail, a place to use those âfailuresâ as an additional learning tool. No one will always be successful, she said, or be good at everything. They may not know what their future will be, but with resilience they can face it. Vander Kooy believes that young scientists can learn to overcome obstacles, including those currently seen with loss of learning due to COVID.
The STEM connection is planting a seed, says Vander Kooy. The seed is becoming the pervasive idea that we are all scientists, she says, and that lifelong learning and communication are good prospects for all as they move forward in life.
And that day, spending hours outside, sometimes in the rain and mud, these students are real scientists.