August 31, 2021
From one Bluemont to another, Summer STEM celebrates 11th year
COVID-19 may have forced a move from Bluemont Hall to Bluemont Elementary School, but the result was still a familiar one: hundreds of middle schoolers engaged in hands-on STEM-related activities.
The Summer STEM Institute, offered as a collaborative effort between USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden and Kansas State University's curriculum and instruction department in the College of Education, provided three weeks of STEM classes focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as a few arts-related sessions.
"The first six months of 2021 were challenging, but then on June 7 there was a shift in my energy and focus, as the Summer STEM Institute started," said Paula Hough, USD 383 executive director of teaching and learning. "With over 300 students from the Manhattan-Ogden area coming together with an amazing group of educators and students from K-State, there was a revived excitement around learning. Students collaborated, they explored Manhattan with community partners, they solved problems, and they explored new ideas."
USD 383 Superintendent Marvin Wade agreed.
"It was great to see so many students actively involved and enjoying learning during the 2021 Summer STEM Institute at Bluemont Elementary," Wade said. "I was impressed by the many project-based learning opportunities provided within each class, and especially appreciated how instructors personalized materials and activities to maximize engagement of every student. Congratulations on another successful year of this unique partnership between the K-State College of Education and USD 383!"
Held June 7-24, the morning program was led by teachers from USD 383 and the surrounding area and included 24 topics. Among those were old favorites like Thinking Through Games, CSI, Vet Med, Drones, 3D Printing, Digital Media, and Music Exploration in a Digital World. But there were also new options that proved popular, including Explore Manhattan, Making it Sew Fun, Data Detectives and Crop Scene Investigation, STEM in the Outdoors, Exploring the Beauty of Mathematical Art, and History Time Machine.
Also participating — and gaining teaching experience — were 46 K-State students from the summer Core Teaching Skills class who used the institute as an extensive field experience and were mentored by the lead classroom teachers. Three hundred and six students attended the camp, with 120 fifth-graders, 95 sixth-graders, 63 seventh-graders and 28 eighth-graders. Because of space limitations and safety regulations, student registration had to be capped.
The institute committee, which spent months planning the program, incuded Ashley Smith and Sheila Stephens, who served as principals; Duke Harmon, Lucas Loughmiller, Diane Daniel and Hough, all from USD 383; and Lori Goodson, K-State coordinator and assistant professor of curriculum and instruction. Kaylee Myers, K-State College of Education instructor who co-teaches the Core Teaching Skills course with Goodson, assisted with the day-to-day operations of the camp and oversaw the students' field experiences.
In summer 2020, the institute had to shift from in-person to remote in a matter of weeks due to COVID-19. Even with the change, more than 200 students participated from across the state and as far away as Minnesota. But the planning committee was determined to return to face-to-face classes for summer 2021. Due to limitations on the K-State campus late last spring during planning for the summer program, the group moved the institute to Bluemont Elementary School, where principal Beth Neitzel and her staff welcomed approximately 35 teachers and administrators and 46 K-State pre-service teachers to take over the building.
"It was wonderful to see Bluemont Elementary become totally filled with STEM-related learning," Goodson said. "Previously we've held the Institute on campus, and the classes are spread out into several buildings with other colleges across campus participating. Because that wasn't an option this summer, we were able to see what a STEM school would look like. And it was amazing."
Goodson said it was especially exciting to have middle schoolers, K-State students and faculty enjoying the learning process — and having the freedom to choose the topics they participated in. The goal, she said, is for everyone to leave happy … a little teary-eyed, but happy.
As the buses pulled out after the final day of camp, several students, pre-service teachers, faculty and organizers were caught up in the emotional experience.
"As one teacher said about her Summer STEM experience, 'It's a blessing I didn't know I needed after this long year.' That kind of sums it up for a lot of us involved in this program," Goodson said.
After a hard year with little to no in-person contact, Summer STEM revived the love and joy of interacting with people and the delight of education.
"STEM brought back the connection that we had been missing from our lives since COVID-19 struck the year before," said Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education. "This summer program provided all of the students, teachers, administrators, faculty, and K-State students who participated with a special, personalized, and heartwarming learning experience. STEM supplies these young students with valuable knowledge about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics all in a unique and fun way. We are eagerly looking forward to returning to Bluemont Hall in the future for another amazing summer STEM."