Dissecting a frog, making a potato clock, building baking soda volcanoes. Hands-on learning is key to a memorable education in STEM. In a school year where most kids were stuck in a virtual learning environment, students missed out on valuable educational experiences
Beginning in February and continuing through the year, Impression 5 Science Center will be distributing STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematiccs — education kits every other month to Head Start ages 3 to 5 who live in the tri-county area.
“STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy and enables the next generation of innovators,” said Erik Larson, executive director of Impression 5. “We want to encourage STEM education during the pandemic with our kits.”
Grants from the Delta Dental Foundation and the Dart Foundation will fund the project. Over the course of the year, 900 to 1,600 kits are going to be sent out.
Larson stressed the importance of hands-on learning. Experimentation and exploration are essential in helping young students absorb the material they’re studying. “It helps solidify their understanding of whatever concept they’re studying,” he explained. “Being able to manipulate certain interactive devices gives them a deeper connection to the experience.”
The kits were designed to follow along with a typical Head Start curriculum. Each one has a theme like recycling & Earth Day for April or math & oral health for February.
To encourage interactive learning, each kit includes different objects for the child to hold and interact with, plus an activity that they can complete with the help of their parents or caregivers.
Larson said that parents and teachers have been doing everything they can to make sure that children in virtual school are still getting a good education. But still, students are missing out on the opportunity to socialize with their teachers and peers.
“We know that teachers are doing their best to provide learning opportunities in a virtual environment,” said Larson. “We felt like we could try and supplement that with activities for the entire family to engage in.”
Impression 5 is also open to visitors at reduced hours and reduced capacity. Families can reserve a spot to visit the science center ahead of time. Impression 5 will gradually open up to more visitors as infection rates go down.
At the science center, Larson and his colleagues have been discussing ways to keep students engaged while they’re learning virtually. His advice is pretty simple: play. That’s it.
“Children are natural scientists,” said Larson. “They test, they take risks, they experiment with things all the time while they’re playing. So we’ve been encouraging families to provide time for their children to just play. It doesn’t even need to be guided by a certain curriculum.”
Impression 5 Science Center
200 Museum Dr., Lansing
Check online for reduced hours
(517) 485-8116, impression5.org