Digital literacy skills are critical for kids growing up today. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve partnered with the Idaho STEM Action Center on their annual INDEEDS Awards, which are designed to recognize and support educators who are energizing students to learn about STEM. Congrats on the 2020 winners who were announced last night at the ITC Hall of Fame & Resilience Showcase!
Last year, in November of 2019, Vynyl CEO Ian Harris presented an award to Lynette Leonard, librarian at Southside Elementary in Cocolalla, in recognition of her 3D printing team, STEAM camp, and other innovative tech-ed programs. We recently caught up with Lynette to find out more about how she’s adapting to educating students during COVID, and how the INDEEDS Awards have helped in her mission to get students excited about technology.
Vynyl: In your experience, how has the COVID pandemic highlighted the importance of education in science?
Lynette Leonard: COVID has impacted all aspects of education, but I have learned that through science students can continue their education at home. Most students have access to the outdoors, which is filled with educational opportunities. Families don't need textbooks, computers or internet service to do science at home. We have really tried to take advantage of this to give our students more opportunities to learn. This is especially important since the majority of our students—about 90 percent—have limited or no access to the internet.
How did the prize help you further your educational goals for your students?
My goal was to help my students become competitive with critical 21st-century STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) skills. The prize opened up several opportunities. We were able to bring Idaho's first STEAM SmartLab to our school. This has provided our students with over 600 hands-on lessons and skill-building activities that will expose them to many STEAM careers. We only had the STEAM SmartLab for three weeks before COVID hit, but in even that short time we were able to see the impact it is going to make on students’ education. One of the biggest successes is that we are seeing all students highly engaged in their educational experience. It has allowed me to create different partnerships with other educators and businesses that will help further my knowledge of what our students need. Also, it provides a real-world connection to what we are teaching.
How have your school plans been impacted by COVID-19?
We have had to become very creative in order to teach the skills students need when most of our community does not have access to internet service and technology. We are also adjusting how the STEAM SmartLab will work with all the new health regulations. We’re engaging the students to collaborate on ways we can still have them work on projects. They’re designing their class models with me to assure they still get the experience of the STEAM SmartLab.
Tell us more about STEAM Camp.
We didn't know if we would be able to hold an in-person camp. As we prepared for the camp we made sure it could be done in-person or as a distanced learning STEAM Curiosity camp. It definitely looked different than any camp we have done in the past, and we were the only school in Northern Idaho that had an in-person camp. Usually, kids are collaborating and working on projects but this year we had to assure every student had their own supplies and projects, which we did with the help of a grant.
Students were divided into groups of 10 and stayed in the same classroom the entire camp with the same teacher. Desks were spaced six feet apart to comply with CDC guidelines and we provided each student with a baseball cap that had a shield on it or masks to wear during camp. Even with all the safety procedures, the students had fun at camp.
This year we focused on exploring the stars, the science of flight, mechanical machines, and robots. The students went home with projects like working constellation lanterns and models of the solar system, rocket launchers, kites, phantom projectors, robots and many other projects. They had the opportunity to go to the STEAM SmartLab one day during camp to learn about scientific & data analysis related to temperature, optical illusions, animation, etc.
It was exciting to watch these elementary students so eager to learn, despite the COVID-related challenges. We were even able to have some families who could not attend in-person who participated from home. It gave us a good glimpse into how the fall will look and what we can do to improve our systems right now.