STEM Summer Institute, a program in USD 383 Manhattan KS

For the past seven years, my district has held an enrichment opportunity for students in grades fifth through ninth grade called STEM Summer Institute. This unique program has been funded by a Department of Defense Education Activity Grant.  Manhattan, Kansas is next to Fort Riley Army Base and the district strives to support the distinctive needs of our military children. With that in mind, this STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) summer program allows students to practice hands-on STEM activities in a relaxed environment.  Local students select one class for each week in June (our school year ends by Memorial Day).

 Offerings vary each year, but grades 5 and 6 have different options than grades 7 through 9. This year our 317 learners are enrolled in twenty-three different classes; thirteen choices for the younger students and ten choices for the middle school students. Each course is held in the mornings, Mondays through Thursdays. For example, if a child is enrolled in all four weeks, they would have the opportunity to experience a wide range of hands-on STEM activities in four different classes.  Since the sessions are held on campus at Kansas State University, students ride a bus from several pick up sites around town.

Our June classes are limited to fifteen students if instructed by one local teacher, whereas eighteen students are allowed in classes co-taught by two adults.  The second adult is either a college professor, STARBASE or area technical college instructor.

This is a collaborative project with my district and Kansas State University’s College of Education. During the summer, traditional field placement of pre-service teachers is difficult to locate. With STEM Summer Institute, these college students gain quality contact time within a real classroom with real students. They observe the experienced teacher each week, and by the fourth week are able to conduct the instruction. Since classes only meet Mondays through Thursdays, the KSU teaching teams meet with the local cooperating teacher each Friday to plan and reflect on the week.

Having the opportunity to hold classes in a number of Kansas State University buildings allows students to visit college laboratories. Teachers also invite professors to share their knowledge through demonstrations or activities. Some examples include: the state climatologist talking to the weather classes about the formation of tornadoes and producing a tornado in her special box; a physics professor providing hands-on experiences for the K’Nex roller coaster groups; the assistant college soccer coach sharing how to maneuver a ball for the science of sports crowd. Some of our offerings have co-instructors that are college professors and thus classes meet in their departments (City of Mine craft is in Construction Science, Vet Med is held in the Veterinary College of Medicine, both Mighty Micro Controllers and Simulating The Martian in Department of Computer Science, Passive Solar Architecture  and Grain Science). Advantages are extensive, but most notably our students are able to access the same equipment as college students.

STEM Summer Institute is not only a collaborative project with the local university, but with the community as well. Our local D.o.D. STARBASE instructors share their knowledge with fifth graders during the schoolyear and offer a robotics class to summer students. Manhattan Area Technical College opens their doors to our seventh and eighth graders to explore career paths offered at the site. Riley County Police Department stages a crime scene for the C.S.I. groups every week.  Soldiers from Fort Riley Army Base share STEM options within the Army at the end of June.

As technology changes, so does our offerings.  We have added an indoor drone technology and electronics textile classes. This June, we added programs focused on arts to allow the pre-service teachers more chances to practice in their field. Students will explore science fiction writing, build in a maker space, and learn how music and science are connected.

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4 Comments

  1. Paul Adams
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    This sounds like a great program Chris.

  2. Cathy Williams
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    The program really is a great opportunity for the kids in your district. They are lucky to have great teachers like you that are willing to give up their summers to enrich young minds!!

  3. Kerri Canfield
    Posted June 18, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What a program! It’s so wonderful to have the college open their doors and be so involved for with these students. I currently teach fifth graders but before that I was in charge of starting a STEM program at our school for kindergarten through fourth grade. It was certainly a challenge some days teaching a classroom full of 20 six and seven-year old children about certain STEM material. My students did a variety of things but the one they loved the best was working with robots. The kindergartners, first and second graders had “Bee Bots” that were funded through a Donors Choose account while the third and fourth graders worked with Lego bots. I was amazed to see how quickly they picked up on the programming and how they loved the challenge. After they had learned the basics of the program I had the third graders design and construct mazes for the fourth graders to program their robots through. This was by far the best part of the year. Third graders were researching about engineering and what the process was like to build, while the fourth graders were measuring and calculating their distance and speed around the maze. The STEM Summer Institute is such a great opportunity, I hope to see something like this develop in my community.

  4. Kelly B.
    Posted June 18, 2018 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like such a great program and opportunity for the students in your district! It is amazing to hear how successful this program is with the collaboration of the local university and community. The elementary school I teach at is a 5th and 6th grade building, and last year was the first year that STEM education was a part of the curriculum. It was extremely exciting to observe my 6th grade classes as they worked through different modules and projects, and as they solved problems as a team. My students participated in the “Infection: Detection” module, where they explored the transmission of infection and learned about the mechanisms that the body uses to stay healthy through several simulations. As a group, students were faced with a design problem and had to work together to find solutions to a fictional outbreak that had occurred in a classroom. Students also had the opportunity to work with 3D pens, Ozobots, and the Osmo, and they saw a demonstration of how the 3D printer works. Some of my students, who are normally quiet and appear uninterested in other content areas, thrived in the STEM classroom. They were engaged in the hands-on activities and became leaders of their groups in this setting. It was truly amazing to see how students, who typically become frustrated during math or language arts, accepted the challenges in STEM and were determined to succeed. Students in your area are extremely fortunate to have the STEM Summer Institute and a community who is dedicated to their students by supporting their needs.

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