On May 31, J.F. Tatem Elementary unveiled its new method to lead students into a 21st-century learning mindset: an updated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab, which was split across three rooms at the school.
“The STEM Lab is 100 percent funded by the Tatem PTA. We went to (Tatem principal) Valerie Cline and asked her to come up with innovative ideas they could do to help enhance the school. She suggested creating the STEM lab because they had done that previously in her former district,” noted Jackie Tomasso Miller, current Tatem PTA president.
“With the help of Mrs. (Jennifer) Harding, who is our in-house STEM expert, we were able to create a long list of items that she thought would go a long way in a lab for kindergarten through fifth grade. We gave Harding a budget; she worked independently to collect the items and has brought us this amazing lab.”
Among the scientific wonders on display and demonstrated Tatem students were: mechanized ferris wheels, snap circuits, virtual-reality goggles, magnetic power sources, a build-your-own-video-game kit and orbs that are powered by microchips and can be moved via a toggle switch from a tablet.
In Harding’s fifth-grade classroom, the main attraction was a large green screen, which offered certain volunteers wearing green clothing the opportunity to see their disembodied heads floating in space.
“When they told me they planned to invest a lot of money into STEM, I jumped right on it. I did a lot of networking and asking around for what the best equipment would be, to reach all kids from kindergarten through fifth grade. And so, all year what I’ve been doing is testing different products out, and really having my STEM club and my fifth-graders utilize all this,” Harding explained.
“We actually have so many products, and because we’re calling it the ‘STEAM Expo,’ I wanted all the teachers to really focus on their grade levels. That’s why, down on the second floor, it’s K through second grade, all the materials that are most appropriate for them. This room (Harding’s classroom on the third floor) can really reach all grade levels and then I put everything in the science lab that’s for third- and fourth- and fifth-graders. If you see all the rooms, you’re going to notice all the level-appropriate stuff.”
According to Tatem parent Megan York Parker, the PTA raised $18,500 for the new equipment.
“I think the expectation is that the lab will be held in the science lab eventually. And all the kids will come in and out of there, or they’ll take the STEM activities back to their classrooms if their teachers permit them to do so. But basically, they have the opportunity throughout the school year to have access to all of these awesome tools that will help enhance their studies,” Tomasso Miller added.