One of the “Choice” options in the Bend-LaPine School district, Buckingham Elementary focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Each year, they participate in STEM Week Oregon, an annual event that was formally established by governor’s proclamation and seeks to both build excitement around STEM in school and community programs, and boost student achievement and workforce development in these areas. Buckingham’s STEM week celebration had an entire slate of events, centering on the theme of sustainability, planned by a committee made up of one teacher from each grade.
STEM Week kicked off with an all-school assembly. The Bend Environmental Center presented fun lesson on sustainability: describing the concept and how each individual (even kids!) can make a difference. Throughout the week, each class used design lessons to create a project from recycled materials, such as reusable snack container, and then teamed up with a buddy class from a different grade to redesign their object. Parents were invited join their children again during a lunchtime lesson. Tobolski said the school wanted to, “create a home dialogue on current material in order to generalize learning, not just for kids, but for the whole family.” She said, “Learning takes place and is reinforced at home; we want to help create and sustain that dialogue.” On Friday, each class in the school chose a local park for a trash pick-up day. But cleanup for STEM kids has a twist: each student picked up trash, not with gloves and plastic bags (which create more waste), but with a reusable tool.
STEM Night, which took place throughout the school on Wednesday, May 3, was a large event, meant to inspire students and families. Held from 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Buckingham invited more than eighteen STEM professionals to set-up tables and bring interactive projects to engage and teach students about their field. Students and their families, as well as families from across the district, were invited to interact the individuals—from forestry managers to engineers, scientists to Parks & Rec staff—and ask questions about their work. As Vanessa Tobolski, Assistant Principal at the school explained, “We armed the students with questions, so they could take advantage of the opportunity to talk with our guests. In addition, students were also prepared to ask what career training and education the professionals needed to attain their position, so that they could begin to envision themselves in such jobs and plan for the future.” To make the evening even more exciting for the elementary students, Buckingham also invited teens from local feeder high schools to present projects that they had created in engineering and science programs. The older students really energized the younger children, engaging them in discussions about skis they had designed, demonstrating working catapults and showing off robotics projects. But the grade-schoolers weren’t just spectators at STEM Night; each classroom also prepared and demonstrated an interactive activity that revolved around the yearly theme chosen by each classroom, whether it was a biome project (K), an Oregon Trail (4th grade) design challenge or an interactive activity demonstrating pollination (2nd grade).
As a STEM school, Buckingham teaches students many of the skills associated with STEM fields, along with greater STEM curriculum content and real-world connections to the material. Some of these skills include: problem-solving, collaboration, persistence and inquisitiveness. In addition to helping kids with the design process, the school highlights the concept of continuous improvement. Says Tobolski, “In real life, people don’t just try something once and think, ‘Great! All done.’ They keep trying to improve it, so that it’s better, faster, more efficient or less expensive. We want our students to learn to persist and consider other ideas.”
Buckingham became a STEM school four years ago as a result of teacher interest and cultural trends; the focus came about organically. Teachers wanted to provide the best opportunities for the students, making sure that they had excellent future choices and a well-defined path to success; many felt that STEM instruction would offer these possibilities. Staff brought the idea to the administration, which heartily supported it, searching for teacher training opportunities and allowing time for backwards curriculum design.
Moving forward, Buckingham has received a grant in partnership with the High Desert Museum, a community partner, to continue co-creating STEM curriculum units, which will be used by other schools in the district and around Central Oregon. Tobolski said that they are also working with their local STEM Hub, one of eleven across the state, to gain access to more resources and connect with additional community partners. Said Whitney Swander, Executive Director of Central Oregon STEM Hub, which connects regional pre K-12 education systems, higher education, community organizations, and business and industry partners to align, enhance, and catalyze new opportunities and exploration in STEM, “What’s happening at Buckingham Elementary is truly inspirational. Buckingham is creating a demand for more STEM opportunities across the education spectrum as their students move into their neighborhood middle schools, then high schools, and onward!” Swander continued, “Buckingham embraces our Hub’s regional priority to get industry into schools and students out into the community. These connections help kiddos see STEM in action and start imagining their future as an entrepreneur.”