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Jeffersonville STEM Classroom Features Robotics, Coding

The new Ripken STEM classroom at Franklin Square Elementary in Indiana aims to engage students from a young age and cultivate interests in science careers with robots, 3-D printers and interactive activities.

(TNS) — As students attended the first day of school at Franklin Square Elementary, they learned how to code with tiny robots, to use tangerines and other materials to generate electric currents and to engage in other interactive STEM activities.

These are among the learning opportunities available to students in Franklin Square's new Ripken STEM classroom, which opened Wednesday as classes began in Greater Clark County Schools.

Greater Clark received a $40,000 grant from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to purchase technology and materials for the classroom. The grant was funded by Niagara Bottling, LLC.

Franklin Square, located in downtown Jeffersonville, offers the district's first elementary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program in its overall curriculum. Greater Clark Superintendent Mark Laughner said the new STEM classroom will be part of that daily curriculum for Franklin Square students.

Greater Clark aims to expand interest in both STEM education and STEM careers.

"The immediate thing you see is the engagement — they're immediately engaged with the equipment, the material, and they want to learn more about it," Laughner said. "Anytime you can get a student to be that engaged, then you're ahead of the game. This will just be a great thing for this school and the students in this school."

Scott Swinson, senior director of development for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, said he is happy to "provide a lovely STEM center for this school and these students help them integrate into STEM."

"STEM can sometimes be scary when you're thinking about science, technology, engineering and math, and we just want to create a friendly environment where the kids are just more or less having fun while they're learning."

On Wednesday, students rotated through stations featuring different activities, including a few involving small robots to teach kids basic coding skills. For example, kids learned to program Bee-Bots to travel from one place to another on a map.

Another activity focused on using markers and Ozobots — the activity involves drawing with a marker as the robot picks up the colors and travels through different pathways.

The classroom offers Snap Circuits as an introduction to electric circuitry. One activity allows students to make music by assembling a closed circuit using tangerines and alligator clips to connect with a computer.

The classroom also features several 3-D printers and a collection of STEM kits with 3-D building blocks that are "like Legos on steroids," according to Swinson.

Laughner said the goal is to eventually expand STEM programming at each of the district's elementary schools.

"We would like for each of our elementary schools to become STEM-certified elementary schools, because you have to start with the young kids to get them interested," he said.

Kim Hartlage, deputy superintendent at Greater Clark, said she is "thrilled" to have a partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Niagara Bottling to bring the STEM classroom to fruition. It allows students to experience "traditional concepts that have now evolved into these fun, exciting activities."

"There's no intimidation — they dig right into the coding and the engineering," she said. "To them, they're playing."

Hartlage enjoyed seeing the student's enthusiasm for STEM, and she is "excited to see what the future holds for them," saying they are "learning skills for jobs that don't yet exist."

Laughner said although he has "yet to see the perfect start" to a school year, the first day of school was going smoothly as of Wednesday morning.

He was particularly excited to see students and teachers enjoy the new STEM classroom upon their return to school.

"The kids and teachers are excited to be back," he said. "It's nice just to see them in-person, excited, learning from each other, learning from the adults in the room. That's what we're here for — to educate our students — so to me it's a great thing to see as a superintendent."

©2022 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.