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Jackson Middle School STEM class challenges students to find creative solutions

Jackson Middle School students are putting their wits and skills to the test in the STEM program which challenges students to work with limited information, resources and time to complete tasks to help them learn science and engineering principles. (Photo Provided)

VIENNA — Offering a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program for the first time at Jackson Middle school, students will learn science and engineering concepts through hands-on assignments.

The new program will not only encourage innovation for students learning with hands-on experience but the creative thinking aspects can also be applied to other classes, said STEM teacher Cherish George.

“I think for the most part the kids love it. It’s stressful for them because they don’t get a whole lot of directions, which is part of the plan that they learn through innovation and creativity,” George said. “And then in turn, if they build on their creative thinking, it makes them a better student in all of their other core classes.”

Entering her fourth year at Jackson, George fell in love with STEM while working for Edison Middle School in the past. Wanting something similar for Jackson, George asked principal Jeff Kisner if they could have something similar and he was all for it, she said.

In addition to her 7th-grade science duties, George has a rotation of four STEM classes, one 6th and 7th-grade class, and two 8th grade classes.

Students are given a challenge, but with no other instruction. In a recent lesson, students had to build a parachute for a superhero figurine only using a list of items to design the best possible parachute.

The students then took turns dropping each parachute with a metal figure attached while another student recorded how long it took the piece to fall 7 feet. Each test was completed three times to give an average so students could calculate how quickly it fell. The students were learning to calculate the speed using the speed equation, George said.

At the start of testing, the parachutes did little to slow the figure’s descent, but George said those often are the best lessons for students to learn.

“I always tell them, ‘Listen, you’re not failing. You didn’t fail if you learn something.’ I would ask them ‘What would you do differently?’. They would then tell me ‘Well you know the top of my parachute wasn’t durable enough. Or maybe the base of my parachute was heavier than the top,'” George said. “So they’re always learning no matter what they’re doing. I always tell them that Thomas Edison never failed, he just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. It’s not a failure to invent something.”

Depending on the project, a normal lesson plan will only last a couple of days. The first day is the start of the construction and testing process. Tests will continue the next day and students will start analyzing them to see what did and didn’t work.

In previous weeks, students designed, built, and tested boats, as well as converting grams to pounds.

George said the projects will continue to get larger and more challenging. The program plans to work with robotic cars, a greenhouse, a Monarch butterfly garden, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and heat presses.

A long-term goal for the program will be learning how to sew using recently donated sewing machines. After learning different stitches and creating small projects like pillows, George said they plan to donate pillows for heart surgery patients at WVU Medicine Camden Clark later in the school year.

Students said the unique challenges combined with the fast pace and opportunities to be creative make the STEM class a unique and fun adventure.

In addition to allowing students to learn about hands-on trades, George also said it will help student’s if they want to have a career once finished with school.

“I think that we are starting to see that not everyone is going off to college. Sometimes kids need to develop a trade or become interested in some sort of trade,” George said. “I think, STEM, whether they go to college or whether they choose a trade, this is going to better equip them for their future.”

The class is seeking community donations, as the pandemic and need for personal protective equipment has made it more challenging for the school to provide enough materials for students.

“You either have to wear gloves or have enough materials for each student to have their own,” George said. “And PPE is especially expensive, so we try to have as much material as possible. We couldn’t do this without the community’s help.”

George said donations from WVU Medicine Camden Clark and school parents have made many of the initial projects possible but said she hopes more groups and community members will donate to help make the class successful.

Donations dropped off at the school should be earmarked “STEM Program Donation” and checks can be made payable to Jackson Middle School with “STEM Program Donation” in the memo line.

For questions, Cherish George can be contacted at cmgeorge@k12.wv.us or by calling the school at 1-304-420-9551.

Tyler Bennett can be reached at tbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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