Washington fourth-grade science students in Dave Wray’s class, from left, Austin Avelar, Greta Fulton and Heidi Walsh, work together on a tower-building project as part of their STEM learning.

Collaboration and teamwork are goals of the STEM program, according to Washington Park Elementary fourth-grade science teacher Dave Wray.

Wray, a 13-year veteran of the classroom, has been working on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) with students for the past three years and has noticed a great difference in their learning abilities from actually doing science instead of just reading about it.

STEM learning allows students to work as a team and learn from one another through their failures and successes. In one lesson, teams of two and three students had 10 minutes to build a tower with 20 plastic straws, paper clips and 12 inches of masking tape as their only supplies. They weren’t given specific rules, only that the tower be freestanding. Several attempts at building showed how difficult it could be without a plan.

One team drew a diagram and made a steady base of straws on the bottom and connected straws to stand up from the base straws. They had completed one phase of the tower when the timer’s 10-minute buzzer went off. Re-starting the timer after initial measurements were recorded, resulted in classmates borrowing the team’s idea of a steady base to compose their own towers.

When teams were accused of stealing the idea, Wray explained how Ford built the first car and others followed him to build other cars to improve upon his original cars. Science and technology often borrow the best ideas to make things better for everyone.

Wray again reiterated the STEM basic rules: “first, use material correctly, then always be working, and finally, don’t say ‘I’m done.’” He encouraged students to take what they had learned and put it to practical use in the “real world.”

Wray said he really lets the kids take the lead on how they’d like to do the projects. There are no set rights and wrongs, but the students experiment and use logic and rational thought as to what can actually work the best. The STEM program offers students the opportunity to make choices and see what works best, such as in real-life situations.

Wray is convinced of the success of STEM and is glad he gets to implement STEM projects at the elementary level.

“We have seen a lot of improvement in PSSA scores in science areas due to the increased use of the STEM program,” he said.

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