Program boosts STEM activities for Danville elementary students

Program boosts STEM activities for Danville elementary students

DANVILLE — Last year, a classroom at South View Middle School looked more like an engineering lab.

There, a group of Meade Park Elementary School fifth-graders brainstormed ideas for compressed air-powered race cars and designed them, using a computer-aided drafting program. After eighth-graders cut out the designs from blocks of pine wood, the fifth-graders added wheels, decorated them and took them on a test run down a racetrack.

Then the students calculated the speeds — some of which were clocked at 20 and 25 miles per hour — and recorded their times into a computer program.

They liked that the project gave them a chance to be creative, build things and have fun. Teachers liked that they were getting a taste of science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — activities.

This year, more Danville schools elementary students will get a chance to participate in STEM activities through Launch Project Lead the Way. The program will be piloted for a fifth-grade class at Cannon and Meade Park, a fourth-grade class at Garfield and first- and second-grade class at Southwest.

"This is a great way to introduce our students to this problem-solving way of thinking," said Brenda Yoho, the district's director of educational support programs.

"It's not just giving them facts. It's teaching them to analyze, synthesize and apply what they know to a problem and find solutions to those problems."

The nation's leading provider of STEM programs, Project Lead the Way helps students develop the skills they need to be college and career ready. The district has offered the curriculum at the high school and the Gateway to Technology curriculum at the middle schools for a number of years.

The expansion to the elementary schools was made possible through the Danville Public School Foundation. The foundation received $10,000 from Iroquois Federal Foundation, $5,000 from the DART Foundation, $2,500 from Old National Bank and a gift from a private donor to help fund the program.

"The initiative fits perfectly with the foundation's mission of helping to provide enhanced educational opportunities for the boys and girls attending Danville public schools," said Bob Richard, the executive director, who thanked the donors at this week's school board meeting.

The district will use Title I federal grant dollars to purchase iPads, computer software, supplies and materials, training and additional needs.

Educators also hope that introducing the program to elementary students will build their interest in and give them a foundation for STEM programs at the middle and high schools and in those careers.

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