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Brenda Cowan Elementary Pilots STEM Program with Kentucky State

A special component of Summer Ignite (SI) has yielded more than three dozen mini terrariums at Brenda Cowan Elementary (BCE), where students spent several days focused on the environment. Now they are watching for sprouts. “We have Earth in a bottle, with all four systems in there,” SI STEM teacher Isaac Dove said in describing their final project.

Thirty-eight students in grades 3 through 5 participated in the Summer STEM Enrichment Program through Kentucky State University (KSU). The pilot stressed intentional play and problem solving as practical ways for students to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Other highlights included keeping a scientific journal and exploring types of soil. The storybook “All About Earth, Our World on Stage” formed the foundation for their activities, which aligned with NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. Brenda Cowan is the first school in Kentucky to partner with GLOBE.

To make a terrarium, each child spooned soil into a plastic water bottle cut in half, representing the geosphere. Next, they added a little water (hydrosphere) and then three or four radish seeds (biosphere). Twice they paused to check the temperature of their terrarium as Dove quizzed them about their hypotheses and the children shared out their results. After they capped and sealed the bottles with tape, Dove encouraged the students to notice at home how the water would evaporate, form condensation on the sides, and provide enough moisture for their seeds to grow – illustrating the water cycle in the atmosphere.

“The No. 1 goal is broadening participation in STEM,” said Scott Wicker, an associate professor of chemistry at KSU. “Research shows between third and fifth grade is where we lose a lot of students. We’re engaging them in hands-on activities to encourage them to continue down a STEM pathway. It promotes investigation and curiosity.”

The program’s closing ceremony in the BCE library featured special guests, certificates, T-shirts and a swag bag, and a symbolic lab jacket that builds a sense of belonging to the STEM community. “We give them a white coat to promote their going into science,” Wicker explained.

The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust funded the summer program. When KSU’s Center for Research on the Eradication of Educational Disparities (CREED) reached out to Fayette County Public Schools, district staff selected BCE for the test run. KSU plans to offer the enrichment program to other Title I schools here throughout the 2022-23 year.

BCE Principal Joshua Williams was pleased with the experience, saying, “I’m hoping our kids really develop a passion for STEM, and I hope it helps them understand that STEM is in everything we do and is all around us so they can see the practical uses.”

Students and leaders gathered for a group photo after the white coat ceremony.

Posted June 23, 2022