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Benton Elementary School: STEM program boosts student interest in science, math

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | 7:40 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Benton Elementary School held a showcase Wednesday for its students to kick off a newly implemented learning model, designed to improve test scores and promote exploration of careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Benton principal Troy Hogg said the STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, showcase was designed to pique students' interests in these areas of study.

Teachers, donned in white lab coats, led their classes to 17 stations set up around the school. Columbia professionals helped educate students on a variety of topics and careers, from veterinary medicine to nanotechnology.

MU School of Medicine's Ellis Ingram described the importance of keeping science alive in elementary schools: "This is it. It starts here. These kids are going to have the solutions to our community and healthcare problems."

Students enthusiastically observed how to make dry ice, discovered what a sheep's kidney looks like and got to play with iPads. Anna Waldron and Deanna Lankford, representatives from the MU Science Education Center taught students how to make slime by mixing a borate solution with food coloring and alcohol.

“Science is important in a lot of fields," veterinarian Jill Moseley said. "Sometimes it’s intimidating, so making it more user-friendly in a fun, understanding way is a good way to get the kids interested."

Hogg said that Benton Elementary learned from schools that had already adopted the STEM model. Along with adding new interactive tools like iPads and laptops, the school also added a BUZ Room.

The BUZ Room, or Building Understanding Zone, is a science room next to the school's playground that students can visit to learn and explore. They're encouraged to bring their science journals there to record their observations.

Benton Elementary teachers came up with room themes for the year, and the students voted on their favorites. The first trimester will be animal-themed, followed by color and light, then natural disasters and weather.

Benton Elementary speech pathologist Denise Lasley said she has already seen excitement from students and staff since the STEM program began.

“The amount of jobs related to these four areas is immense,” Lasley said.  “Getting exposed to new things will give the children life-long learning.”

At the end of the year, Benton will hold their own science fair showcase for the students to show off what they’ve learned.

“One speaker told them they could be whatever they wanted to be, and a student said ‘I want to be a scientist,’” Hogg said.  “It just melts your heart.”


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