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Students ‘debug’ their way through STEM class

District extends programming to all elementary schools

Students make robot-bug mazes in STEM class. Video courtesy of AVES Films.

Kentwood — A word for “fixing something” that Brookwood Elementary students often say in STEM class fit in well with the day’s lesson.

STEM teacher Jenna Williams asked if Young Five students remembered the term. “Debugging!” shouted Violet.

What started as a quick video on insects quickly turned into an opportunity to design and engineer mazes for robot bugs called HEXBUGs. Students worked in pairs to sketch a plan before assembling magnetic tiles into a route for the buzzing bugs.

‘Those bugs are strong, and sometimes they push the walls. How do we debug that?’

– STEM teacher Jenna Williams

The challenge included creating an entrance and exit, and identifying where their bug might get stuck. 

There was lots of debugging involved. “It’s a dead end!” noticed one student, while spotting a wall within a maze. “I put the X right there because it’s not the way you can go through,” said another.

Williams explained that the students are using the design process.

“We go through the ask, imagine, plan, create and improve process,” Williams said. “Sometimes we have to go create, improve, create, improve, over and over again.” 

She put it in kid-friendly terms: “Those bugs are strong, and sometimes they push the walls. How do we debug that?”

Hooking Students on STEM

STEM class is a new addition to the school week for students in all 10 Kentwood elementary schools. Every class receives 45 minutes a week in a dedicated science, technology, engineering and math room.

“We’ve never had STEM at the elementary level before, so (I’m excited) to expose kids to robotics and building challenges and all those fun things,” Williams said. “It’s also about the things they have to use in the classroom too, like teamwork, collaboration, communication.”

Brooke Storms, the district’s instructional technology coordinator, recently watched students work on a storm-drain challenge, designing devices to retrieve an object from the bottom of a bucket. 

“There wasn’t a kid in the room that wasn’t engaged,” she said, noting students were using string and rulers to measure the depth of the bucket. 

Storms said the program adds to middle-school and high-school STEM-related opportunities, including an annual high-school STEM fair, summer STEM camps, and robotics teams.

“We want all of our students to be curious, innovative students, and we want them to see themselves as scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” she said. “If we really inspire them to be curious learners, they are more likely to see themselves in these roles.”

Read more from Kentwood: 
Hands-on trades training before graduation
• ‘
High-dosage tutoring’ helps students catch up

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. 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


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