Char-Em Street STEM – ISD’s traveling trailer brings science and math into the classroom in new ways
Visit the Street STEM web page
“We never know who will be the next engineer, scientist, astronaut, or technology problem-solver, but we do know they are right here in Char-Em.” Jim Rummer, Director of Career and Technical Education, Char-Em ISD
When Brandon Beltz walks into a classroom these days, students light up with excitement. They know he’ll be have the latest in STEM activities – like robots, drones, 3D pens and a 3D printer – in tow for a new approach to teaching science, technology, engineering and math to kindergarten through 8th grade kids.
Earlier this year, the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District’s Career and Technical Education Department launched “Char-Em Street STEM,” a mobile trailer stocked with technology gadgets and activities for the littlest learners through late middle school. It’s a new way to generate excitement for learning, said Beltz, the ISD’s new STEM consultant who joined the Career Tech staff at the start of this school year.
What do the kids have to say about Street STEM? Here’s what second graders from Lincoln Elementary School in Petoskey think about the new initiative:
“Doing STEM activities make me want to do more!” Kingston S.
“Our STEM activities help me think about what job I want when I grow up. I could be a builder or an electrician.” Peyton S.
“STEM activities help us learn how things work.” Kadence C.
Beltz, who had taught career-tech oriented classes previously in a neighboring school district, is tasked with staying on top of emerging technology trends to keep that excitement going and ensure students throughout Char-Em’s 11 public school districts are learning on the latest and greatest devices
“The initiative strives to get STEM materials into classrooms where both students and teachers can learn how to interact with them, understand them, and gain confidence with them,” said Beltz. “From using these materials, we hope we can draw connections to our CTE programs, as well as future careers that might excite the interest of students.”
Jim Rummer, Director of Career and Technical Education for Char-Em ISD, said the program is a further investment in kids K-12.
“We know that the more we can engage kids in hands-on learning, the more they retain and the more they get excited about their futures.” said Rummer. “They may not realize it when they are having fun with Brandon’s activity of the day, but they are developing STEM skills and career interests.
“We never know who will be the next engineer, scientist, astronaut, or technology problem-solver, but we do know they are right here in Char-Em.”
How does it work?
Here’s how Street STEM rolls: Beltz has outfitted a 24-foot long trailer, designed with exciting and fun graphics outside and bins and carts full of activities for kids inside, from Lego robotics to train tracks that develop early coding skills. A 3D printer/laser engraver, 3D pens, and virtual reality goggles bring excitement and new learning opportunities everywhere he goes. When in class, Beltz coaches teachers on how to utilize the activities alongside teaching the students. Teachers can check out the materials he brings to class on their own through the Char-Em ISD Media Center, housed at the Boyne City office.
East Jordan Middle School teacher Matt Hamilton said he was impressed with the ideas and innovation of the traveling STEM initiative.
“I teach 7th grade ancient world history. Brandon came into my class during a unit on ancient Greece. He brought with him 3D pens and the students used these to create Greek artifacts after they researched,” said Hamilton. “This was the first time many of these students worked with this technology. I appreciated the hands-on learning this added to my classroom. The students loved it and were begging him to come back!”
Beltz also connects the activities to curriculum requirements with ready-to-go lesson plans, so teachers don’t have to worry about making the STEM activities fit into their required teaching – those connections are made for them.
“We know how busy teachers are managing their day-to-day classroom needs,” said Beltz. “With this approach, we eliminate many barriers that teachers and students both face when trying to implement new strategies into everyday learning.”
Teachers who have worked with Beltz so far this school year have said it’s an incredible addition and opportunity for getting kids excited about STEM in a new way.
“The ease of having Mr. Beltz in the room and the enthusiasm he and the students have for the activities is delightful,” said Becky Friske, 2nd grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Petoskey. “He brings in all the required materials and has an age-appropriate lesson prepared, making it easy to simply support the students with the activity and let him lead it. When I tell my students Mr. Beltz is coming, they light up.”
Maureen Tasiemski, middle school teacher at Boyne Falls Public School, had a similar reaction.
“It was such a great opportunity to have Brandon come to our classroom and work with our students on programming robots,” Tasiemski said. “The students really enjoyed learning code and watching the robots respond. Brandon was an instant hit with the students. He explained information at their level and encouraged them to try out different techniques.”
She added that his lessons inspired students to investigate the computer science and engineering fields. “We are looking forward to having him in our classroom again,” Tasmieski said.
The goal for 2022-23 and beyond will be for Beltz to travel with the trailer to each K-8 classroom throughout all 11 public school districts, reaching over 5,000 students.
Seeing the excitement of the students and the teachers alike also brings a smile to the face of Tory Thrush, Career/College Readiness Consultant for Char-Em ISD. When Thrush and other staff were challenged by Rummer to develop the “next big CTE initiative,” Thrush jumped at the opportunity. He researched various STEM delivery methods in schools, and with a rough framework in mind, pitched his idea to Rummer and ultimately to the administrative team at Char-Em.
“All of the pieces came together and it is such a joy to see the students working with Brandon and the technology and making their own connections to STEM,” said Thrush. “It is so rewarding to be able to create these opportunities that we know will truly make a difference in the futures of our students in Char-Em.”
To further excite the students about STEM, the career tech department developed a mascot named “Eureka,” a lightbulb brought to life with some special scientific features who will visit students and encourage them to embrace STEM. Eureka’s motto is, “Lighting the way!”
“Eureka is named for the comment attributed to the Greek mathematician, Archimedes, who exclaimed ‘Eureka!’ which translates to, ‘I have found it!’ after making a profound discovery,” said Rummer. “We think the kids will connect with Eureka and be excited when the mascot visits classrooms.”
Rummer noted that several family foundations have stepped in to provide funding for Eureka and other supplies. The foundations include the Mansfield Family Foundation, Baiardi Family Foundation, and the Robert Jensen Dau Foundation. Each has contributed in various ways toward supplies and development of Street STEM, Rummer said.
“We are so grateful that these family foundations see the unlimited potential for reaching kids and getting them excited about STEM and learning,” said Rummer.
“We think we have found a fun and educational way to breathe life into STEM and we can’t wait to see where this goes,” said Jeff Crouse, Char-Em ISD Superintendent. “My hat’s off to the career tech department for dreaming this into reality and making it happen for kids. We see this continuing to grow and making connections across all areas of study to STEM concepts and hands-on learning.”
Beltz said he is enjoying the warm reception from teachers and students alike as the Street STEM experiment takes off.
“This is enjoyable because it allows me to get into classrooms and bring exciting new materials and opportunities to students as well as teachers,” he said. “Being able to open new opportunities to students is something that is vital. It allows them to expand on what they are learning and makes their learning meaningful. And it allows teachers to make a difference in their students’ education. We are truly lighting the way.”