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Future Lunar Lander Builders Start Practice Young

The message is simple: brush your teeth.

A public-service announcement video being created by a group of Nickels Elementary fifth-graders stars two teeth. One is white and clean, the other yellow, brown and yucky. In the skit, the pearly white and not-so-white bounce on their roots to the dentist for the good or bad news about their conditions.

Spoiler alert: “The tooth that doesn’t brush goes to the dentist and starts brushing,” said Tyler Hansen.

Tyler and Ethan Wieber, Landon Jurmo and Morgan Keiser are creating the stop-action video that will make you grin by molding the molars with clay and recording scenes in front of backdrops during Brain Quest, a class that merges science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

Don’t smoke. Don’t litter. Eat healthy. Exercise. Get outside and play. Squishy clay characters demonstrate why it’s a good idea to do things like recycle or adopt a pet from a rescue shelter. Those are a few of the messages students are sharing using clay, Legos, and storyboards to create videos, which will be completed by spring break.

Mason Dennis creates a Lego tree for his group’s claymation video
Mason Dennis creates a Lego tree for his group’s claymation video

Out-of-Their-Seats Learning

Brain Quest teacher Jessica Johnson is partnering with art teacher Molly Marshall for the project. “They can get their message across using what they’ve learned with clay, using their technology in a different way,” Johnson said.

Students used cameras on their phones or Chromebooks to record their videos and are editing them on computers. “You get to create your own story. It’s cool,” said Rylee Siereveld.

Students said creating videos and stories around positive lifestyles and behaviors was meaningful to them. “Our story is about not smoking, and we are trying to reduce the number of people who smoke,” said sixth-grader Evan Moreno.

“It inspires me to make the world a better place,” said Preston Berta, another sixth-grader.

Other Brain Quest projects have included designing mini lunar landers made with marshmallows and straws; creating egg-carrying containers and testing to see if they can withstand falls from different heights; and simulating a (vegetable) oil spill cleanup. For many projects, students follow a budget, keeping track of expenses on the way.

“You build and use your imagination,” Landon said.

Like STEM classes, which have been added at the district’s three K-4 elementary schools, Brain Quest immerses student in hands-on projects that make real-world connections.

“It makes your brain work harder because it gets you thinking about what you haven’t before, like building your own moon lander,” Tyler said.


Last year’s Nickels Elementary Claymation videos

Evan Moreno, Maison Nawrocki and Preston Berta make clay characters for their video about smoking
Evan Moreno, Maison Nawrocki and Preston Berta make clay characters for their video about smoking

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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