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Today’s Lesson: How to Capture Zombies

Students Apply STEM Skills to Fantasy Kingdoms


Pine Island Elementary third-graders were hunched around six tables in Tony Molnar’s STEM class, their kingdoms’ crests waving overhead as they worked to construct traps for the invading zombies.

Noise level: about a 7.

Engagement: a perfect 10.

The goal: to imprison but not harm the undead, because Zomgrove controlled most of the coal and oil for the surrounding kingdoms. Students also were tasked to incorporate at least one of the following into every trap: an inclined plane, pulley, lever, wheel and axle, screw or wedge.

Tony Molnar, who leads the STEM class at Pine Island Elementary, comes up with a zombie storyline, and students work in kingdoms to build traps

Other materials at each kingdom’s disposal included pipe cleaners, bathroom tissue rolls, rubber bands, plastic chain links, an empty yogurt container and tiny plastic zombies.

“Keep your zombies safe and alive, or half-alive, I should probably say,” Molnar instructed. “If you destroy them, it’s going to be a very cold winter for you.”

Janvi Patel had an idea right away: “We’ll make a diving board over a pool that they can fall into,” she said as she connected plastic cogs to one another to make a holding pen of sorts.

When she was done, she dropped a single cog inside and spun it with a pencil. “This is the vortex,” she explained.

Added classmate Bristol Bennett: “It’s for them to get dizzy so we can lift them out like an elevator.”

Capture, but do not harm: the bywords of Tony Molnar’s STEM class using a zombie storyline

Imagination Meets Academics

This is the first year Pine Island has had class time devoted to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Molnar teaches sixteen 35-minute sections to grades 3 to 5 every week. He also teaches typing at Stoney Creek Elementary and leads students in taping the daily pledge of allegiance.

“I am so enthused, as a teacher, to be doing this,” Molnar said. “When it comes down to it, the very simplest things are what really bring out their imaginations, and this is coming from a guy who’s a technology teacher.”

For the zombie lesson, students in every class period were divided into six kingdoms, which they named and developed on their own. In one class, there was Moonglow, Orc Hollow, Mermaid Shore and Eclipse Valley.

“When it comes down to it, the very simplest things are what really bring out their imaginations — and this is coming from a guy who’s a technology teacher.” — Tony Molnar, elementary STEM teacher

Groups were graded on their designs as well as their teamwork and communication efforts. Molnar said he would like to expand his projects to integrate with what students are doing in other classes, such as persuasive writing and geography, to name just two.

“You could take this and find six or seven (academic) standards it probably meets,” he said.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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