West View Elementary program making science fun
The students in Jessica Friedrich's kindergarten class at West View Elementary School are excited. They clap, cheer and laugh while playing with colorful toys.
It isn't recess; it's science.
Friedrich, along with three other kindergarten teachers in the North Hills School District, are using Engineering is Elementary in their classrooms. The program integrates hands-on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM concepts, with elementary topics to help students become better problem solvers.
“This new stuff is amazing,” said Friedrich, who has been teaching for 20 years. “It's the best thing the North Hills School District has ever done.”
Friedrich's students chatter as they make their own Rube Goldberg machines, which are complicated gadgets that perform simple tasks in zany ways. The children are tasked with knocking down dominoes using a ramp, a swing, a top and a ball. The activity — which they see more as a game than a lesson — teaches them about force, friction and gravity.
Elijah Hunt beams with pride when his contraption flattens the dominoes. Ethan Rich and Leia Rees high-five when their ball makes a direct hit, toppling the black-and-white rectangles. They all log their successful experiments in their science journals, which they write in every day.
“I think it's really important for kids, especially girls, to take an early interest in science and engineering,” said Dr. Jeff Taylor, assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and elementary assessment. “There's a deficit of female engineers. We figured if we started this program in kindergarten and did it every year it would show all students that anybody can do math and science and it can be fun.”
This year marks the first time the district has had a STEM program at the kindergarten level. Throughout the school year, Friedrich's kindergartners will also learn about trees and endangered animals.
Friedrich admits that science was not something that was easy for her to teach, but Engineering is Elementary makes it a breeze.
Karen Klingman, who taught fourth grade in the district for 38 years before retiring a decade ago, said North Hills has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to its science curriculum. She volunteers in the classroom every Wednesday.
“It's really exciting,” she said of Engineering is Elementary. “It was a great decision to bring this to the North Hills.”
Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributor.