A small group of students gathered Monday around a table in a brightly decorated classroom at Cradlerock Elementary School in Columbia poring over gadgets and poking neon-colored balls of modeling clay with wires connected to a small fan and light bulb.
The classroom, known as the STEM Center or “The Rock Tank,” opened to students on March 3 and is the first of its kind in the Howard County Public School System. The school held a special ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the new space last week.
Funded by the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and the Kahlert Foundation, the center provides state-of-the-art materials and resources for hands-on collaboration and investigation as well as items such as a 3D printer, circuit and coding kits, laptops and robotics kits.
Cradlerock Principal Jonathan Davis said part of the school’s Title I mission is outreach to families, and the STEM center will provide a way for students and their families to engage in learning together. Title I is a federal program that provides financial assistance to local school systems and schools with high percentages of poor children to support academic achievement.
Davis hopes it will also help students prepare for an ever-changing world.
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“A great many jobs are in the STEM field and most of the jobs that these kids will take aren’t even created yet, but we know that it’s going to be computer, circuits, electronics-based or a working combination, so I’m excited that we’re exposing them to this,” he said.
Kathleen Miller, the family involvement contact at Cradlerock, said the center will provide students with the opportunity to learn coding, circuitry and problem-solving, in a hands-on, collaborative way.
“Kids are really like sponges when it comes to these types of activities and they’re very savvy at a young age,” she said. “We’re happy to have some tools that allow them to build on this interest and build this skill set.”
Miller said she hopes the center will add to the educational experience at Cradlerock.
“The STEM Center is a source of pride for our students and our community,” she said. “It will provide [students] another opportunity to build their skills and it’s really a great space for kids to continue learning to work together and learning to experience frustration and problem-solve and persist through that to ultimately have a successful outcome.”
Emmy Favero, 9, a third-grader at Cradlerock, said she is excited about learning how to build robots in the center, and said it’s important for students to learn about STEM.
“[STEM] can teach you a lot and life lessons,” she said. “And it’s fun.”