A Merced City School District dream became reality this week, when the first groups of students began using our new cutting edge STEAM Center after years of planning and months of construction. The facility provides a modern space for hands-on lessons that integrate science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics, while allowing teachers to collaborate alongside their students. It was designed to help prepare our children for bright futures in high demand fields.
I had a chance to visit the 5,460-square-foot center next to Ada Givens Elementary on Tuesday morning. Approximately 150 sixth graders from Givens and Charles Wright Elementary were learning about thermal energy, and the energy in the rooms was palpable! The students were busy developing hypotheses, conducting experiments, making modifications, and sharing their conclusions. I loved seeing how engaged they were in each activity.
I approached one of our teachers on special assignment to find out more about what his group was doing, and he wisely asked one of his students to speak with me since articulating information is an important part of the learning process. Nathalee Reyes eloquently explained that she and her classmates were learning about conduction through multiple methods. One involved placing small pieces of wax at different distances on a metal rod and touching the tip to a hot surface. The students then made predictions and recorded how long it took for each piece to melt. Nathalee also showed me the journal she was keeping about her team’s observations. I was impressed not only by her detailed description, but also the confidence with which she spoke about the entire process. Meanwhile, another group of students was outside taking part in a thermal energy “scavenger hunt.” It involved determining the temperatures of various surfaces and analyzing the factors that contributed to each one being higher or lower than the air temperature.
Our Coordinator of STEAM Education, Adrienne Nau, says, “It is so exciting to see the kids using the STEAM Center the way we intended as we designed this space over the past few years. The students are really enjoying the hands-on experience, and the flexible collaborative spaces encourage them to share ideas and knowledge with one another.”
All of our students will get to enjoy the STEAM Center, but the experiences vary by grade level. Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders will spend three consecutive days at the facility tackling the toughest physical science concepts in addition to corresponding lessons at their school sites before and after their visits. Our other grade levels will get to visit the center for STEAM-based workshops, interactive presentations, and special events. The facility was thoughtfully designed for this type of learning, from the folding glass write-on walls to the 21st century audio-visual technology to the outdoor amphitheater. It represents an exciting expansion of our award-winning STEAM program, which also includes educational excursions to places such as Yosemite National Park, Farm 2U, and local performing arts programs.
As we continue to develop and improve that program, we truly value our partnerships with all of our stakeholders. We held the first of three parent/community nights at the STEAM Center on Aug. 24 and are planning two more from 6-7 p.m. on Sept. 28 and Jan. 25. We would also like to invite everyone to a dedication ceremony on Oct. 25 at 10:30 a.m. The address for the STEAM Center is 2900 Green St. We look forward to showcasing this facility and sharing more about how we can all work together to help our students succeed.
Sara Sandrik, an Emmy Award-winning former journalist, is the public information officer for the Merced City School District. She can be reached at email@example.com.