Sparking ideas; Young West Meade students build electric circuits in STEM program

Robin Suda, a teacher at West Meade Early Education Center on Fort Meade, shows students how to play “Fidgit Factory” during their hourlong STEM class. (Photos by Maddie Ecker)

Challenged to build a functional electric circuit, the kindergarten students in Robin Suda’s classroom worked together to accomplish the project using batteries, connectors, a switch and a light.

Suda, a teacher at the West Meade Early Education Center, leads a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, class for the Fort Meade school geared to children in kindergarten and pre-K.

The STEM class is part of Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ Enhancing Elementary Excellence, or Triple-E, project.

Triple-E is a pilot program designed to “engage students in collaborative teams to ask engaging questions, creatively solve problems, and enthusiastically learn through hands-on exploration,” according to the Triple-E website.

Only three AACPS clusters have launched the Triple-E project: the Meade Cluster, the North County Cluster and the Southern Cluster.

Triple-E encompasses four areas: Arts and Humanities, Global Studies, World Culture and Language, and STEM in Society.

The three pillars of the Triple-E program are: project-based learning, student-centered spaces, and transdisciplinary concepts.

West Meade’s Triple-E program, taught by Suda, is STEM in Society.

Suda looks through a student’s engineer notebook as three classmates assemble circuits.

Future Engineers

At West Meade, Suda challenges her 4- and 5-year-old students to work collaboratively and think creatively.

“We want to encourage collaboration, problem solving and working with others,” she said. “These are going to be the skills that are really important when they’re getting jobs or applying for college.”

Suda, a teacher at West Meade for 17 years, has taught the STEM program since it was brought to the school two years ago.

“It’s good for the students because it’s a different way to learn,” she said. “It’s also good for the teachers because it gives them more time to plan their lessons.”

Each West Meade class spends an hour per week working on STEM-related projects with Suda.

“I think this is the age where we need to hook [children] to this subject,” she said. “We have to prepare them for careers that don’t exist yet.”

During the hourlong class, students are addressed as engineers and have the opportunity to learn in an unconventional classroom.

“It’s a different kind of classroom,” Suda said. “It’s on them to figure [things] out. This is project-based learning as opposed to their regular classroom and regular curriculum.”

Suda encourages a growth mind-set in her students.

“Instead of ‘I can’t do it,’ we say, ‘I haven’t figured it out yet.’ There’s not a right answer or a wrong answer,” she said.

Each student in the STEM class has an engineer notebook to sketch the project he or she is working on.

“When they’re done making their circuit and drawing a diagram of it, they share their findings with [a classmate] and that student signs off on it,” Suda said.

The class curriculum is designed by Suda.

“If I see that they’re interested in something specific, or there’s a real-life problem in school that we need to solve, we’ll work on that,” she said. “I have some freedom [with the class].”

One of the class’ earlier projects this year was wind-powered systems. Students also designed a tool to do a specific job.

After completing the electric circuit project, the youngsters will focus on yoga and meditation.

“I know they can’t wait to come here,” Suda said. “I think the freedom of choice and voice gives them more confidence.

“They know they can come here and take risks.”

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